By Sara Menso
I was hired by the University of Maryland School of Medicine in April of 2011. My manager, Kevin Brown, asked me to make things run more efficiently. I asked for a year to see how everything worked and I would see what I could do. I had never worked within a medical school, but one thing everyone seemed to be talking about was the upcoming MSPE season. It sounded like a huge, daunting project.
The Medical Student Performance Evaluation is a very detailed transcript of a medical student’s career. It is sent to residency programs as part of the residency application, and every medical school must create one for every fourth-year student applying to residency. From the way my co-workers were talking, I knew this document was very important: It could change the trajectory of a medical student’s life. But its creation was tedious and time-consuming.
In 2011, the MSPE was due to be uploaded to the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) on November 1. The entire office—three staff members, three assistant deans, and one associate dean—dropped everything to create these documents. This meant putting virtually all student services on hold until MSPE season concluded.
My task was to ensure all the evaluations were added to the MSPE. The MSPEs were saved on a network drive as Word documents; there were about 165 in total. Each dean was responsible for a group of students and their MSPEs.
Every day, I would log in to an evaluation website and pull a report of the evaluations that came in that day. I would manually copy and paste the information into the Word documents on our network drive. Just to give you a picture of the magnitude of the task, each student has seven clerkships in their third year and about six courses in their fourth year. By the end of the MSPE season, I had manually copied and pasted over two thousand evaluations. My fingers, eyes, and brain hurt. With six people working on the documents, there were many errors—even the fonts weren’t consistent. Once those issues were corrected, I had to go through and make all the edits. I told myself I would never do it that way again. We needed to automate. We needed “an app for that.”
My bachelor’s degree was in business administration with a focus in entrepreneurship, and I was working on my MBA. I was very familiar with IT products, but I wasn’t an expert in programming. Before creating something from scratch, I called other medical schools to see if they had a better practice. Each one said that they were doing the same thing and they wished there were a better way.
Committed to creating something original, I laid out the design for the application. After evaluating the process, I knew how the work should flow and who needed to touch specific parts of the document. I showed our department’s new programmer, Priyanka Koneru, what I had planned. We worked for the next year to create the application. Every day, we were challenged. I loved every minute of building this application. I wanted never to copy and paste an evaluation again. I had to make this work.
In 2012, ERAS announced that the deadline for the MSPE would be moved up one month, to October 1. By July of 2012, we were ready to launch the application in our school. We named our application Automated Student Affairs Processes, or ASAP. Before the deadline, the deans were asking me every day if something was wrong because they weren’t stressed. That year, we were able to submit the MSPEs three days early, and I didn’t have to copy and paste a single evaluation!
Because there seemed to be no other automated solutions for this process, our department decided to test the larger market after using it successfully for two years. In 2013, we attended the AAMC annual meeting in Philadelphia to find a beta test site—another medical school that would implement the application.
In November of 2013, we traveled to Philadelphia. Personally, I was skeptical that we would get a response, but all of my worrying stopped when several medical schools expressed interest in becoming beta test sites. Gladys Ayala, MD, Vice Chancellor at New York Medical College, and I spoke at our booth about this cumbersome process. After showing her ASAP and how it changed my life and the lives of our deans, I could feel her excitement. We knew that NYMC would be a perfect beta test school.
We signed a one-year license with NYMC and worked to implement ASAP there. After the MSPE season, we received the following testimonial from Dr. Ayala:
“One of the greatest challenges is the coordination of many different offices in order to get these evaluations (aka dean’s letters) completed with accurate student information in a timely fashion and meet the target deadline for the release to program directors. Utilizing ASAP, the information was easily uploaded by various departments and can be stored in a central program.”
Tanya Wilson, NYMC’s administrator responsible for the evaluations, wrote:
“You and your team, consisting of Priyanka Koneru and Sara Menso, effectively communicated with our Student Affairs team on the implementation of ASAP and ensured that our needs were being met with the highest level of professionalism and quality of care. The creation and completion of the NYMC’s Class of 2015 Dean’s letters through the new ASAP system would not have been possible without the constant follow-through and dedication from all of you.”
After the success with NYMC, we signed up to exhibit at the 2014 AAMC annual meeting in Chicago. I can’t thank the AAMC enough for giving us the opportunity to feature our product. Without the booth in Philadelphia, we wouldn’t have been able to elevate ASAP to its current levels.
Our team will be releasing the third version of the application next month. If your school would benefit from this application and would be interested in a product demonstration of ASAP, please contact me at 410-706-3689.
Sara Menso, MBA, is a Business Analyst in the Office of Student Affairs at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.