Gender-based differences in letters of recommendation written for ophthalmology residency applicants

Fei Lin, Soo Kyung Oh, Lynn K. Gordon, Stacy L. Pineles, Jamie B. Rosenberg, Irena Tsui

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Background: To determine whether gender-based differences may be present in letters of recommendation written for ophthalmology residency applicants. Methods: All applications submitted through SF Match to the UCLA Stein Eye Institute Residency Training Program from the 2017-2018 application cycle were analyzed using validated text analysis software (Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (Austin, TX)). The main outcome measures were differences in language use in letters of recommendation by gender of applicant. Results: Of 440 applicants, 254 (58%) were male and 186 (42%) were female. The two gender groups had similar United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) Step 1 scores, undergraduate grade point averages (uGPA's), proportions of underrepresented minority (URM) applicants and Gold Humanism Honor Society members, numbers of academic and service activities listed, and gender distributions of their letter writers (all P values > 0.05). However, letters written for male applicants were determined to use more "authentic" words than those written for female applicants (mean difference, 0.800; 95% CI, 0.001-1.590; P = 0.047). Letters written for male applicants also contained more "leisure" words (mean difference, 0.056; 95% CI, 0.008-0.104; P = 0.023) and fewer "feel" words (mean difference, 0.033; 95% CI, 0.001-0.065; P = 0.041) and "biological processes" words (mean difference, 0.157; 95% CI, 0.017-0.297; P = 0.028). Conclusions: There were gender differences detected in recommendation letters in ophthalmology consistent with prior studies from other fields. Awareness of these differences may improve residency selection processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number476
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 30 2019


  • Application
  • Bias
  • Gender
  • Ophthalmology
  • Residency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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