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Current Orthopaedic Residency Letters of Recommendation Are Not Biased by Gender of Applicant.

  • Author(s): Lipa, Shaina A
  • Greene, Nattaly E
  • Le, Hai V
  • White, Augustus A
  • Gebhardt, Mark C
  • Dyer, George SM
  • et al.

Letters of recommendation (LORs) are highly influential in the residency selection process. Differences in language and length of LORs by gender have been demonstrated for applicants applying to surgical residencies and fellowships. This had yet to be studied in orthopaedic surgery. Given the gender disparity in the field, we sought to investigate the impact of gender on orthopaedic residency applicant LORs. We hypothesized that differences in length and language would be present for women applicants as compared to men.


LORs for 2019 to 2020 applicants who applied to a single academic institution were selected for review. Female and male applicants were matched by medical school attended and United States Medical Licensing Examination Step 1 score. LORs were analyzed using both qualitative and quantitative analyses. Letters were evaluated for their word count, presence of language terms, and frequency of language terms. A similar subgroup language analysis was performed for standardized LORs (SLORs).


Six hundred fifty-six applicants met the initial screening criteria-126 women and 530 men. After matching, 71 female applicants were paired with 111 male applicants. Word count was, on average, longer for female applicants. LORs for female applicants were more likely to contain language terms that characterized their ability, achievement, participation in athletics, awards received, fit, leadership, and personality traits. Of these terms, ability and participation in athletics were also found more frequently in LORs written for women. In addition, language characterizing technical skills was found more frequently in LORs of female applicants. Similar codes were found to be statistically significant in the SLOR subgroup analysis.


This study highlights that current orthopaedic surgery residency LORs do not appear to be biased by applicant gender. LORs were longer for female applicants and described them more positively. Future female orthopaedic residency applicants should be assured that current female candidates are applying with at least similar if not greater subjective qualifications to their male counterparts based on the findings of this study.

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