BACKGROUND Orthopaedic residency programs lack gender and race diversity. This study examines the hypothesis that exposure to a required course in musculoskeletal medicine in medical school is associated with a higher rate of application to orthopaedic surgery residency programs by underrepresented groups. METHODS All 122 medical schools in the United States were surveyed in 2001 to determine whether they required dedicated course work in musculoskeletal medicine, defined as a preclinical module or clinical clerkship in orthopaedic surgery, rheumatology, or physiatry. Data from the Electronic Residency Application Service were obtained for the class of 2002. From these two sources, the rate of applications from students to orthopaedic surgery residency programs was calculated as a function of exposure to a required course in musculoskeletal medicine. Subgroup analysis was further carried out for women and for African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. RESULTS In 2002, there were 16,294 graduates of American medical schools, of whom approximately 55% had mandatory instruction in musculoskeletal medicine. The rate of application to orthopaedic surgery residency programs was 5.7% among the students with required instruction compared with a rate of 5.1% for students without such required instruction. The rate of application for female students was 2.0% for those who had required courses and 1.1% for the female students who had not had the required courses. The rate of application for minority students in schools with required courses was 8.2% compared with a rate of 6.1% for those students without such exposure. CONCLUSIONS Required instruction in musculoskeletal medicine was associated with a 12% higher rate of application to orthopaedic surgery residency programs among all students (5.7% of those who received required instruction compared with 5.1% of those who did not). The relative difference was more pronounced among women (a 75% difference in the rate of application) and minorities (a 35% difference in the rate of application). This study suggests that required instruction in musculoskeletal medicine can help to promote diversity in orthopaedic surgery residency programs.
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