Race, But Not Gender, Is Associated with Admissions into Orthopaedic Residency Programs

Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2020 Dec 3. doi: 10.1097/CORR.0000000000001553. Online ahead of print.


Background: Orthopaedic surgery is one of the most competitive but least diverse surgical specialties, with ever-increasing academic achievements (such as test scores) shown by applicants. Prior research shows that white applicants had higher United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) Step 1 and Step 2 Clinical Knowledge scores as well as higher odds of Alpha Omega Alpha status compared with Black, Hispanic, and other applicant groups. Yet, it still remains unknown whether differences in application metrics by race/ethnicity sufficiently explain the underrepresentation of certain racial or ethnic minority groups in orthopaedic residency programs.

Questions/purposes: In this study, we sought to determine (1) the relative weight of academic variables for admission into orthopaedic residency, and (2) whether race and gender are independently associated with admission into an orthopedic residency.

Methods: The Electronic Residency Application System (ERAS) data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) of first-time MD applicants (n = 8966) for orthopaedic surgery residency positions in the United States and of admitted orthopaedic residents (n = 6218) from 2005 to 2014 were reviewed. This dataset is the first and most comprehensive of its kind to date in orthopaedic surgery. Academic metrics, such as USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 Clinical Knowledge scores, number of publications, Alpha Omega Alpha status, volunteer experiences, work experience, as well as race and gender, were analyzed using hierarchical logistic regression models. The first model analyzed the association of academic metrics with admission into orthopaedic residency. In the second model, we added race and gender and controlled for metrics of academic performance. To determine how well the models simulated the actual admissions data, we computed the receiver operating characteristics (ROC) including the area under curve (AUC), which measures the model's ability to simulate which applicants were admitted or not admitted, with an AUC = 1.0 representing a perfect simulation. The odds ratio and confidence interval of each variable were computed.

Results: When only academic variables were analyzed in the first model, Alpha Omega Alpha status (odds ratio 2.12 [95% CI 1.80 to 2.50]; p < 0.001), the USMLE Step 1 score (OR 1.04 [95% CI 1.03 to 1.04]; p < 0.001), the USMLE Step 2 Clinical Knowledge score (OR 1.01 [95% CI 1.01 to 1.02]; p < 0.001), publication count (OR 1.04 [95% CI 1.03 to 1.05]; p < 0.001), and volunteer experience (OR 1.03 [95% CI 1.01 to 1.04]; p < 0.001) were associated with admissions into orthopaedics while work and research experience were not. This model yielded a good prediction of the results with an AUC of 0.755. The second model, in which the variables of race and gender were added to the academic variables, also had a good prediction of the results with an AUC of 0.759. This model indicates that applicant race, but not gender, is associated with admissions into orthopaedic residency. Applicants from Asian (OR 0.78 [95% CI 0.67 to 0.92]), Black (OR 0.63 [95% CI 0.51 to 0.77], Hispanic (OR 0.48 [95% CI 0.36 to 0.65]), or other race groups (OR 0.65 [95% CI 0.55 to 0.77]) had lower odds of admission into residency compared with white applicants.

Conclusion: Minority applicants, but not women, have lower odds of admission into orthopaedic surgery residency, even when accounting for academic performance metrics. Changes in the residency selection processes are needed to eliminate the lower admission probability of qualified minority applicants in orthopaedic residency and to improve the diversity and inclusion of orthopaedic surgery. Changes including increasing the diversity of the selection committee, bias training, blinding applications before review, removal of metrics with history of racial disparities from an interviewer's candidate profile before an interview, and use of holistic application review (where an applicants' experiences, attributes, and academic metrics are all considered) can improve the diversity landscape in training. In addition, cultivating an environment of inclusion will be necessary to address these long-standing trends in orthopaedic surgery.

Clinical relevance: Race, but not gender, is associated with the odds of acceptance into orthopaedic surgery residency despite equivalent academic metrics. Changes in residency selection processes are suggested to eliminate the lower admission probability of qualified minority applicants into orthopaedic residency and to improve the diversity and inclusion of orthopaedic surgery.