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Do gender and racial differences exist in letters of recommendation for obstetrics and gynecology residency applicants?

Published:September 07, 2021DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2021.08.033

      Background

      Studies in several fields demonstrate gender and racial differences in descriptions of applicants in letters of recommendation. However, gender and racial biases in obstetrics and gynecology residency letters of recommendation are understudied.

      Objective

      This study aimed to determine whether there are differences in the letters of recommendation written for medical students applying for obstetrics and gynecology residency based on applicant gender and underrepresented in medicine status.

      Study Design

      We analyzed all letters of recommendation submitted to a single obstetrics and gynecology residency program during the 2019–2020 application cycle using a computerized text analysis software to evaluate the presence of 25 word categories. Multivariable regression was used to compare differences in the frequency of word categories by gender and underrepresented in medicine status. Concurrently, we performed a qualitative content analysis of letters from a random sample of applicants balanced for gender and underrepresented in medicine status and explored emerging themes until thematic saturation was reached.

      Results

      We analyzed 3060 letters written for 834 applicants, 721 (87%) of whom were women and 198 (24%) of whom were underrepresented in medicine. Men authored 1605 letters (53%). There was no difference in word categories used in letters written for men and women applicants on multivariable analysis. Similarly, there was no word category difference between letters written for applicants who were underrepresented in medicine compared with White and Asian applicants. However, women letter writers used more communal (relationship-oriented) words compared with men letter writers (P<.001). Moreover, on the qualitative analysis of letters from a random sample of 30 applicants, comments about personality traits were frequent in all letters. Comments on surgical skills, work ethic, and leadership were found more in letters for White and Asian applicants, and phrases that were doubt raisers were found more in letters written for underrepresented medicine applicants.

      Conclusion

      On linguistic analysis, letters of recommendation written for obstetrics and gynecology residency applicants were similar overall compared with applicant race and gender.

      Key words

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