Racial and Gender Discrimination in Hand Surgery Letters of Recommendation

Published:August 19, 2021DOI:


      We sought to evaluate hand surgery applicants’ letters of recommendations to understand whether applicant and letter writer demographics contribute to racial and gender bias.


      All applications submitted through the American Society for Surgery of the Hand match to a single institution fellowship program for the 2017 to 2019 application cycles were analyzed using validated text analysis software. Race/ethnicity information was derived from an analysis of applicant photos using the Face Secret Pro software. Primary outcome measures were differences in communal and agentic language used in letters of recommendation, stratified by both race/ethnicity and gender.


      A total of 912 letters of recommendation were analyzed for 233 applicants (51 female and 172 male). Of these, 88 were written by female letter writers and 824 were written by male letter writers. There were 8 Black, 12 Hispanic, 36 Asian, and 167 White applicants. Letter writers used more agentic language with Asian applicants and non-White applicants overall. Female letter writers used more communal terms and were not associated with applicant race or gender.


      Letters of recommendation in hand surgery demonstrate disparities in language based on race and gender.

      Clinical relevance

      Alerting letter writers to the role of implicit bias will hopefully spur a discussion on tools to mitigate the use of biased language and provide a foundation for an equitable selection process. Efforts to improve policies and procedures pertaining to diversity and inclusion are paramount to ensuring that fellows more completely represent the population hand surgeons wish to serve.

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