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J Surg Educ. 2017 Oct 25. pii: S1931-7204(17)30428-2. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2017.09.021. [Epub ahead of print]

Textual Analysis of General Surgery Residency Personal Statements: Topics and Gender Differences.

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Department of Surgery, Brigham & Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts. Electronic address:
London School of Economics and Political Science, London, England.
Department of Medicine, Brigham & Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.
Department of Surgery, Brigham & Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.



Applicants to US general surgery residency training programs submit standardized applications. Applicants use the personal statement to express their individual rationale for a career in surgery. Our research explores common topics and gender differences within the personal statements of general surgery applicants.


We analyzed the electronic residency application service personal statements of 578 applicants (containing 3,82,405 words) from Liaison Committee on Medical Education-accredited medical schools to a single ACGME-accredited general surgery program using an automated textual analysis program to identify common topics and gender differences. Using a recursive algorithm, the program identified common words and clusters, grouping them into topic classes, which are internally validated.


We identified and labeled 8 statistically significant topic classes through independent review: "my story," "the art of surgery," "clinical vignettes," "why I love surgery," "residency program characteristics," "working as a team," "academics and research," and "global health and policy." Although some classes were common to all applications, we also identified gender-specific differences. Notably, women were significantly more likely than men to be represented within the class of "working as a team." (p < 0.01) Furthermore, men were significantly more likely than women to be represented within the class of "clinical vignettes" (p < 0.01).


Applying textual analysis to a national cohort, we identified common narrative topics in the personal statements of aspiring general surgeons, noting differences between the statements of men and women. Women were more likely to discuss surgery as a team endeavor while men were more likely to focus on the details of their surgical experiences. Our work mirrors what has been found in social psychology research on gender-based differences in how men and women communicate their career goals and aspirations in other competitive professional situations.


Interpersonal skills and communication; medical student; personal statement; surgery residency; textual analysis

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