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Acad Med. 2011 Jan;86(1):59-66. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e318200561d.

Do students' and authors' genders affect evaluations? A linguistic analysis of Medical Student Performance Evaluations.

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University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Women's Health Research, Madison, Wisconsin 53715, USA.



Recent guidelines for the Medical Student Performance Evaluation (MSPE) have standardized the "dean's letter." The authors examined MSPEs for linguistic differences according to student or author gender.


This 2009 study analyzed 297 MSPEs for 227 male and 70 female medical students applying to a diagnostic radiology residency program. Text analysis software identified word counts, categories, frequencies, and contexts; factor analysis detected patterns of word categories in student-author gender pairings.


Analyses showed a main effect for student gender (P=.046) and a group difference for the author-student gender combinations (P=.048). Female authors of male student MSPEs used the fewest "positive emotion" words (P=.006). MSPEs by male authors were shorter than those by females (P=.014). MSPEs for students ranked in the National Resident Matching Program contained more "standout" (P=.002) and "positive emotion" (P=.001) words. There were no differences in the author-gender pairs in the proportion of students ranked, although predominant word categories differed by author and student gender. Factor analysis revealed differences among the author-student groups in patterns of correlations among word categories.


MSPEs differed slightly but significantly by student and author gender. These differences may derive from societal norms for male and female behaviors and the subsequent linguistic interpretation of these behaviors, which itself may be colored by the observer's gender. Although the differences in MSPEs did not seem to influence students' rankings, this work underscores the need for awareness of the complex effects of gender in evaluating students and guiding their specialty choices.

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