Sex-Based Language Differences in Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery Fellowship Recommendation Letters

Samantha Freeman, Elishia McKay, Juan Lin, Ava Leegant, Nitya E. Abraham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


INTRODUCTION: Letters of recommendation (LORs) are a significant component of residency and fellowship applications. Applicant sex may play a role in the language used in letters, which could hinder progress in academic fields, particularly for women. Although differences in language based on applicant sex have been identified in other fields, no prior studies have evaluated LORs for female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery (FPMRS) fellowships. METHODS: Letters of recommendations for applicants to an urban, tertiary care academic medical FPMRS fellowship from 2017 to 2019 were collected. Using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count program, a licensed text analysis software for academic purposes, we analyzed LORs based on 16 categories. The Wilcoxon rank sum test, Fisher exact test, and a generalized linear mixed model were used for statistical analyses. RESULTS: A total of 97 fellowship applications were analyzed, yielding 354 LORs; 32 applicants were male, whereas 65 were female. Letters written for male applicants contained significantly more power words (P = 0.022) and significantly less affiliation words (P = 0.025) compared with female counterparts. Differences were maintained after adjusting for age, race/ethnicity, step 1 to step 3 scores, Phi Beta Kappa status, Alpha Omega Alpha status, and writer's sex. CONCLUSIONS: Significant linguistic differences based on applicant sex exist in FPMRS fellowship LORs. Differences are consistent with previous analyses within science and medical fields. These findings did not show a significant association with an applicant's ability to match; however, we did not analyze whether the matched institution was the preferred choice for each applicant.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)697-700
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Pelvic Surgery
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Urology


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