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How to Write the MSPE

13 min


An M3 student meeting with their medical school's dean.


Noteworthy Characteristics: An Important Part of the “Dean’s Letter”

Towards the end of M3 year, students are scheduled to meet with one of the medical school’s Deans. During this meeting, the residency application process is usually reviewed, but more importantly, the student has an opportunity to directly work with the Dean to write the Medical Student Performance Evaluation letter (MSPE), or the “Dean’s letter”, which is sent to all residency programs. Because the Dean’s Letter is a critical component of your residency application, it is very important that students put work and effort into preparing for the Dean’s meeting and brainstorming which characteristics positively describe their time as a medical student.


These are the guidelines for writing the Noteworthy Characteristics section, as outlined by the AAMC: 

  • Provide a maximum of three characteristics highlighting the most salient noteworthy characteristics of the student.
  • Present them as a bulleted list. Each should be described in 2 sentences or less. Information about any significant challenges or hardships encountered by the student during medical school may be included.
  • Lengthy biographical descriptions of the student are not recommended due to the time required for review and because these details can be found in other sections of the applicant’s portfolio (e.g., ERAS application, personal statement, letters of recommendation, interviews). 
  • All noteworthy characteristics should be written in the third-person, past tense – no “I” statements.


What types of things should you include?

  • Achievements in research
  • Honors and Awards
  • Publications
  • Leadership in student organizations
  • Institutional leadership
  • Community service
  • Hobbies that speak to your career interests (i.e. writing about medicine; leadership of peers in sports leagues–these don’t have to be aligned with your medical interests)
  • Peer education/mentorship/tutoring
  • Work experiences before medical school that have influenced your practice
  • Life experiences
  • Explanation of any difficulties or challenges overcome

Remember, you don’t need to use this as an opportunity to regurgitate your CV or transcript. Try to highlight the features that define you as a person and make you unique. In fact, the different areas to highlight may not be aspects of your transcript, CV, or personal statement.


What you should NOT include:

  • Information about what specialty you apply to or why you chose that specialty
  • Summative statements about your academic progress or personal traits
  • Any simple listing of activities (these should appear in your CV—this is NOT a re-write of your CV)



  • During her third year as a medical student, Zoe served as President of the Surgery Interest Group. As President, she organized several suture and knot tying workshops.
  • John has shown an interest in teaching and peer mentorship, as demonstrated by his service as a peer educator in two required courses.
  • Starting after his first year, Joe has conducted research with Dr. Smith, MD, PhD on the subject of bacterial colonization in radiation dermatitis and how this affects outcomes, which has resulted in a series of publications including several with him as first author in the NEJM.
  • Zoe passed her USMLE Step 1 examination a few months after the death of her mother in a traumatic accident.
  • Zoe gave birth to a daughter this past July. She successfully completed all her M3 clinical rotations on time, spent the month of July on a pre-arranged research rotation, and commenced her Intensive Care Unit rotation in mid-August.
  • John is the first member of his family to graduate from college.
  • John is a rising leader and has held several leadership roles, which include service as a Dean’s Council representative, president of the pediatric interest group, and as a co-chair of a local high school health scholars organization.
  • John hopes to incorporate his enthusiasm for reducing disparities in health care into his future practice, and has been a dedicated volunteer in two of our school’s student-run free clinics.
  • John has demonstrated excellence in scholarship and the pursuit of research. He has published two abstracts and been selected for an oral presentation at the Annual Society of Cardiology Conference.
  • John has been an interviewer for prospective students on the admissions committee, and has been a dedicated participant in the medical school admissions process.
  • Zoe exemplified dedication to service by serving as a clinic coordinator and volunteering with the student-run Homeless Clinic.
  • During the basic science sequences of M1-M2 year, Zoe exemplified her dedication to learning and earned her spot on the medical school’s Dean List and was selected to serve as a teaching assistant for the Department of Anatomy.
  • Zoe was a class representative for the Student Government Committee in which her role was to bring student concerns and issues to the board members. She also actively participated in the election of board members and several fundraising events hosted by the association.
  • Zoe was a member of the medical school’s medical fraternity, in which she held many leadership roles including treasurer, presiding senior and Grand Chapter Philanthropy Chair. Through her many roles within the fraternity, she oversaw all social, academic and community events including: the annual Wine and Cheese night, medical workshops, community fundraising, and international medical missions.
  • During her clinical rotations, Zoe assisted in Cholecystectomy vs Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy database analysis at Greenwich Hospital in Greenwich, Connecticut. The research, entitled “XXX,” won the 2nd place prize for the Best Poster Presentation.
  • John participated in a number of community events conducting HIV screenings with the AIDS Foundation and volunteering with the Medical Center for a skin cancer screening service.


Additional information: https://www.aucmed.edu/media/5951/mspe-noteworthy-characteristics-tips-and-guidelines.pdf 

More examples–showing a combination of the 3 characteristics a particular student had decided to use:


 Example 1:

  • Kelsey worked with Healthy Choices Baltimore, a program to educate Baltimore City elementary students on anatomy, physiology, and healthy eating. Kelsey was instrumental in designing a new curriculum and expanding the program to additional Baltimore City schools.
  • Kelsey conducted research on the effectiveness of the pulse oximetry newborn screen for critical congenital heart disease in an underserved population. This original research project resulted in presentations at two separate national conferences, one publication, and two additional manuscript submissions.
  • Kelsey is a soprano in the Hippocratic Notes, the student run a-Capella group. She has performed in the hospital for patients and staff, at Match Day, White Coat and Graduation ceremonies.

 Example 2:

  • Henry was raised by a single father. Despite financial hardships, he distinguished himself in academics and athletics, was the first in his family to go to college and received a full scholarship.
  • Henry was the Treasurer and then President of the Emergency Medicine Interest Group. He facilitated a collaboration with local EMTs which led to a new interdisciplinary educational opportunity.
  • Henry earned an MPH prior to medical school publishing a thesis on the link between obesity and reading levels in inner city students. This education and experience informed and enriched many of his clinical experiences in medical school.

 Example 3:

  • Silpa enjoys National Public Radio, especially programs such as Morning Edition and Hidden Brain. She has participated in a local radio podcast on WYPR on medical student life.
  • Silpa was the class representative for the Student National Medical Association. She spearheaded a youth enrichment project in a local Baltimore City high school STEM camp.
  • As part of the education committee for the Eva Dodge House Advisory system, Silpa arranged, promoted and coordinated faculty-to-student round table and panel opportunities over her two-year tenure.

 Example 4:

  • Sam was a student teacher in the Prematriculation Summer Program where Sam mentored and supported selected students through a predefined curriculum. Sam received the student teacher award two years in a row.
  • Sam is an avid reader. As part of the Humanism elective, Sam introduced multiple short stories and essays focusing on social justice and patient advocacy for group discussion.
  • Sam received the Certificate of Outstanding Achievement in Research for Sam’s research accomplishments studying the use of peri-operative glucocorticoids on transsphenoidal surgery outcomes.


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About the Author

Alexandra R., MD

Alexandra earned her Neuroscience degree from the University of Michigan, graduating with Summa Cum Laude recognition in 2014. She continued her education at the University…

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