BACKGROUND: Female residents in surgical training may face stereotype threat. The awareness of negative stereotypes about surgical ability based on gender may heighten stress and thus reduce performance.
OBJECTIVE: The main objective of this study was to assess the effectiveness of a brief stress-reducing writing exercise, known as a values affirmation, to mitigate the negative effects of stereotype threat on the performance of female surgical residents.
METHODS: This is a randomized, controlled trial in which 167 residents were invited to participate. A total of 45 resident volunteers, including 18 women, were randomized to the affirmation condition or the no-affirmation condition. We administered a values affirmation intervention and measured clinical evaluations data both prior to and 6 months after the intervention.
RESULTS: Women benefited from the affirmation. Women who had participated in the affirmation exercise earned higher clinical evaluation scores than those in the control condition (B = 0.34, P < .05). For men, performance did not differ by affirmation condition (B = -0.20, P = .35).
CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest a benefit of values affirmation for women in surgical training, as measured by performance on clinical evaluations. This suggests that a brief psychological intervention may improve on-the-job performance for women in surgery, an underrepresented group.