Writing an Effective External Letter of Review for Promotion

01-27-2022 16:51

Seminar STFM Medical Student Education Conference Submission:

Title: Writing an Effective External Letter of Review for Promotion


Suzanne Minor

Vicki Hayes

Jennifer Rebekah Hartmark-Hill

Joanna Drowos

Sonya Shipley

Parvathi Perumareddi

Frank Domino

Jeanne Cawse-Lucas


Abstract - What is this session about? 1250 characters

As faculty advance into leadership roles in academic medicine, optimal skillsets include contributing to external review of faculty promotion packets. Further, it is vital that diverse faculty are engaged in performing external review in order to provide representative perspectives in retention and promotion of faculty who are underrepresented in medicine (URM). This session discusses the importance of writing external review letters as a service to our profession and a necessary skill, the role of the external reviewer in the promotion process, the process of writing an external letter of review tailored uniquely to the requested institution’s criteria, and the components of the external letter of review. Participants will leave the session with knowledge of best practices for performing a detailed external review for promotion.


Presenters from 1 or more institutions? Yes

Presenters are student, resident or other learner? No

Presenters as coordinator? No

Presenters from >= 2 professions? no


Objectives - On completion of this session the participants should be able to...:

  1. Recognize that writing quality external letters of review for others’ promotion is an important service and skill for academicians.
  2. Identify the role of the external reviewer in evaluation for the promotion process
  3. Outline the process for writing an external letter of review
  4. Critique sample external letters of review and edit letters to improve quality.


Relevance to medical student education now and in the future  1500 characters

Promotion in academic medicine recognizes the body of work of a faculty member. The process of promotion requires that external faculty review the promotion packet of the faculty with respect to the institution’s promotion criteria.  This review is documented in the form of an external letter of review.  Faculty and departments sometimes struggle with successfully requesting external review letters. Further, it is vital that a diverse faculty population be skilled in performing external review in order to retain and promote faculty who historically have been marginalized, including faculty who are women and/or underrepresented in medicine (URM). We, in medical education, need to cultivate capacity by developing faculty in the skill of performing external review. While there are many articles on writing letters of recommendation for medical students applying to residency, there are very few publications on performing the process of external review in the medical education literature. A pubmed search revealed zero articles with the keywords “external letter(s) of review”, “promotion and tenure letter”, “external review promotion letter”. 


Outline of format - Time allocation/audience engagement methods. A detailed outline of how you will use the time AND how you will engage participants – 60 minutes total with significant participant engagement:   

  1. Introduction (3 minutes) – including hands for audience roles and experience with writing external review letters


  1. Explanation (24 minutes)
  2. Why write external letters of review? important service and skill for academicians; important for URM and women faculty retention and promotion
  3. Process of promotion and the role of the external reviewer in this process
    1. general as each institution has its own specific criteria for promotion, including request letter contents
    2. The ask letter should explain at what level and what activities support that level for each area of excellence (Clinical, Education, Investigation/Research, Service, etc.) their institution requires. Should include mentor and work that does not always show up on a CV; volunteer work, circumstances, etc.
  4. Approach to/process of writing
    1. Saying yes or no and doing so quickly
      1. Time required
      2. Arms length definition and if need to ask about this
    2. Reading and understanding the institution’s criteria –
      1. Review the asking letter and see what their priorities are (should be the same areas of excellence, but applicants often talk about what they did, but not how they meet those areas
      2. Know your own institutional criteria so that you can add “this person would meet criteria at our institution for promotion to ___ Professor”
    3. Writing the letter
      1. Use the asking letter as a template, draft the external review letter, pull from the applicant’s statements
      2. awareness of gender bias in writing narratives for students, or language particular to URMs in evaluations
    4. Components of the external letter of review
      1. Your qualifications for writing this letter
      2. Your understanding of criteria for promotion
  • Comparison of criteria to the promotion packet contents
    1. organize by each criteria heading
    2. consider quantity, quality, impact
  1. Recommendation and closing - statement about if their activities would support that promotion at our institution.


  • Demonstration (6 minutes)

A quick live demonstration of how to approach and perform an external review.


  1. Interaction - Activity (20 Minutes)

In small groups, participants will review 1-2 external letters of review for promotion and critique areas in which the letters are strong and areas in which the letters can be improved.


  1. Debriefing and Closing (7 Minute)
  2. Review of Letters and Main Points
  3. Encourage participants to consider where they are in their own promotion process
  4. Ask Participants to Evaluate the Session on the Conference App


What is new or innovative about the content of this session? 1500 characters

Review of the last five years of MSE Conference Programs reveals there have not been sessions addressing performing external review of promotion packets or writing external letters of review.  While this is an important skill in academics, there is little training available on how to perform it effectively and systematically.


Schlozman KL. External Reviews in Tenure and Promotions Decisions: How Does the Process Work? How Should It? Political Science and Politics. 1998;31(3):623-630.


Goldman E. Writing Tenure-Review Letters. Inside Higher Ed. 2017. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2017/01/19/advice-how-write-effective-tenure-review-letters

Misra J. Lundquist J. Letters of Assessment. 2016. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2016/07/14/advice-writing-letters-assessing-other-faculty-tenure-and-promotion-essay

Boonan D. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Writing a Tenure Letter But Were Afraid to Ask An Academic Administrator. DailyNous. 2016.  http://dailynous.com/2016/10/03/everything-wanted-know-writing-tenure-letter-afraid-ask/

Sample Letter to External Letter Writers for Promotion to Associate Professor. FAS Appointment and Promotion Handbook, Harvard University. https://academic-appointments.fas.harvard.edu/h-sample-letter-external-letter-writers-promotion-associate-professor

Heath JK, Weissman GE, Clancy CB, Shou H, Farrar JT, Dine CJ. Assessment of Gender-Based Linguistic Differences in Physician Trainee Evaluations of Medical Faculty Using Automated Text Mining. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(5):e193520. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2733173


Author(s):Suzanne Minor, Vicki Hayes, Jennifer Rebekah Hartmark-Hill, Joanna Drowos, Sonya Shipley, Parvathi Perumareddi, Frank Domino, Jeanne Cawse-Lucas
0 Favorited
2 Files
pptx file
External Review for Promotion Letter Seminar STFM 11-15-2....pptx   9.26 MB   1 version
Uploaded - 01-27-2022
mp4 file
Writing an Effective External Letter of Review for Promotion.mp4   433.34 MB   1 version
Uploaded - 01-27-2022

Tags and Keywords


05-10-2022 10:59

Thank you!  This is very helpful.

Related Entries and Links

No Related Resource entered.