Kris1

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Half way through my third-year I just got my surgery rotation grades back. Along with it came a "Dean's Letter Summary". I suppose these are the collective comments of the residents and attendings I worked with that will later be used for residency application purposes. If a student doesn't do well on a rotation or even just less than average does it reflect in these letters? What are the code words that residency program directors look for to know that applicant A is better/worse than applicant B? I have a hard time imagining that anything bad or sub-par could be written about students in these letters.
 

mdc1027

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The deans at my school showed us some sample dean's letters including comments written from the attendings and residents on the rotation. They didn't specifically say anything about 'codewords,' but I did notice a trend in the verbage of the reviews. For the best students, I saw the words 'excellent' and 'outstanding' and their synonyms used A LOT. For the lesser students, I noticed a lot of usage of words like 'solid,' 'competent,' and 'caring.' As in "this person had a solid understanding of the material and will be a competent and caring physician." If it was a good review, I think you would be able to tell. Otherwise it's just average.
 

themudphud

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I have a hard time imagining that anything bad or sub-par could be written about students in these letters.

This you are correct about, which is why in general a Dean's letter will not make or break your application (unless you are monster good or monster bad). Key words exist--don't know them exactly--but as I said, a Dean's letter will not affect your residency much at all. At least that is the impression I am under--and have been told this by friends who are now attendings and involved in the residency selection process.
Moreover, if you didn't do well in surgery (hypothetically), then no one will care what the comments from your surgery rotation said.
 

PeepshowJohnny

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Half way through my third-year I just got my surgery rotation grades back. Along with it came a "Dean's Letter Summary". I suppose these are the collective comments of the residents and attendings I worked with that will later be used for residency application purposes. If a student doesn't do well on a rotation or even just less than average does it reflect in these letters? What are the code words that residency program directors look for to know that applicant A is better/worse than applicant B? I have a hard time imagining that anything bad or sub-par could be written about students in these letters.

It's variable how your Dean's letter is handled by your school, but for the majority (IMHO) it's rare for a poor comment to be written in the section fo your evaluation that the attending knows will be used in your Dean's letter unless

A) It's a mistake (heard of cases where they wanted to say something "off the record" like "Work on making notes more concise" and it was written in the wrong section
B) They REALLY REALLY mean it.

I know for B, if you write something negative like "difficult to work with" "did not perform up to his potential" in the Dean's letter section, most of our course directors actually go and talk to the attending to confirm they want that in the Dean's letter and that it is a fair assessment of the student. That's not to say negative things don't make it in if you deserve it, but it's an additional filter.

That said, even though a lot of negative comments don't make it in to the Dean's letter, it is usually a case of "Who is more better than the other?" People will tend to have good comments, but some will have superlative. I don't think there are hard and fast "code words" that span across all schools (Which is objectively better: Fantastic, Outstanding, Excellent? Who knows.) But there are "shorthand" type things. Off the top of my head some big ones are saying things like "Would love to keep on as an intern/resident" "Performed beyond his/her abilities as a third/fourth year" "Was a valued member of our team" "Would make an excellent [insert field attending is]". Those are some especially strong comments I think residency directors like to see.
 
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