How to Ask for a Medical Reference
It isn’t only locum doctors who need to collect medical references. All UK doctors are required to supply references throughout their career, whether they’re registering with a locum agency, applying for a training role or fellowship, or moving to a job overseas.
In this article, we will explain why you need to collect medical references throughout your career, and how you should ask someone to be your referee.
❓ What is a medical reference?
You may think you know what references are, but did you know there are multiple types of references?
👉 Factual References: Used to flag up concerns, missing experience and skills, or as proof that you have the employment history and experience that you claim you have. Generally, the information provided in a factual reference is completely neutral.
👉 Detailed References: A more in-depth review of your capabilities and skills used to highlight candidates skills such as communication, leadership, research, and technical abilities through a rating i.e. a scale of competency (poor, satisfactory, good, very good, or excellent) in a particular skill. They often cover the factual details of your employment history, but also highlight or rate your skills and competencies. Our OneRef form is an example of a detailed reference.
👉 Character Reference: Provided by someone who can more effusively attest to your qualities which make you an ideal candidate for a role. Often these are qualities like honesty, integrity, reliability, good time management and attention to detail, kindness, intelligence, and enthusiasm (to name a few).
❓ Why do I need to collect references?
For locum work:
Most locum agencies will ask for references to cover every single role you have listed on your CV. Some hospitals will not allow you to locum in departments where you lack previous experience and if you don’t have a reference for work you have done, they may not count it. Shadowing can count as work experience so make sure to get references for time spent shadowing too.
For substantive roles:
You need to provide references when you are applying for substantive posts, specialty applications, or for positions in the private sector, so make sure that you collect references as you go. For these applications, the quality of your reference may have a significant impact on your chances of landing a role so it’s important for to ensure your referees can attest to your skills and enthusiastically support you in your career ambitions.
For leadership positions:
If you are applying for a highly competitive role with a smaller pool of applicants, character references may make a huge difference in your application. If a character reference isn’t specifically requested, a glowing endorsement from a meaningful character referee in your portfolio may have a profound impact on your chances of success.
❓ Who should I ask to be my referee?
When looking for referees, you want to try and ensure that you can get the highest possible value from each reference. Generally, this means:
✅ A consultant grade doctor
✅ You have worked with directly
✅ Within the last 3 years
✅ Who can speak about you in a glowing way
✅ In relation to a particular specialty or quality
Finding a referee who can cover multiple specialties or qualities is ideal as you are likely to have spent a fair amount of time with this person and probably a good relationship with them. For example, your educational supervisor, your foundation or training programme director (FPD, or TPD), or a clinical supervisor in your preferred specialty.
As you progress through your career, you may choose to replace older referees with newer ones who can cover your most recent roles and experiences, but it is worth maintaining relationships with old referees if you can as you never know when you may need their support again in the future.
It is inevitable that doctors doing locum work across Trusts or departments will have to provide more references than doctors who have stayed in training continuously since qualifying. This is because locums tend to do more varied and ad-hoc work, and are less likely to build long-term lasting relationships with their consultant colleagues. For this reason, it is worth collecting references as you go, as you and your work are less likely to be remembered months down the line (unless, of course it was remarkably good or bad).
For locums, OneRef can be an extremely valuable tool as it gathers detailed information about your performance as a locum in a quick and efficient way. Your referee only needs to complete the form once, and then the reference is valid for several years which means the administrative burden on your referee is much lower than usual.
If you decide not to use OneRef to collect a locum reference, consider getting a hand-signed hard copy of a reference during the period of your locum work. You may need to write and print a letter yourself that includes key information (keep reading to find out what information you should include) and get your referee to sign it in person.
Keep hard copies of hand-written or hand-signed references in your physical portfolio, along with printouts of all digital references that you have collected over time.
❓ How to ask for a professional reference:
It is considered good etiquette to ask referees in advance if they are happy to advocate for you, as completing references can place a significant administrative burden on consultants.
If a referee agrees to advocate for you, they may be signing up to providing multiple references over several years, which can be time-comsuming, and stressful. However, there are things that you can do to increase your chances of success in getting a good quality reference. Providing your referee with detailed information in advance which they can use to complete the reference, and using a service like OneRef can help make the process significantly easier for your referee.
You can access OneRef by logging into your Messly account here, or read this article to learn more about OneRef and see the form that gets sent out to consultants when you ask for a reference from them.
If you are emailing a consultant to ask them to be your referee, make sure you include the following details in your email:
✅ your title and role when you worked with them (i.e. FY2 doctor, clinical fellow, or locum doctor)
✅ the context in which you worked with them (i.e. if they were the ward consultant, your clinical or educational supervisor, or an academic or research supervisor)
✅ the dates that you worked together
Alternatively, use our email template below and replace the bolded sections with information relevant to your situation.
Dear Dr Smith,
I’m applying for locum work and wonder whether you would be willing to provide me with a reference. We worked together for 3 weeks (26.6.23 - 14.7.23) at Birmingham City Hospital A+E department when I was locuming as an F3 doctor.
I thought you would be an ideal choice for this application, as I believe you can provide information about the experience and skills I demonstrated as an A+E locum doctor, and in particular my clinical ability, my communication and teamworking skills, and my professionalism. I’ve attached my up-to-date CV, which provides some additional information about my background.
Please let me know whether you’d be happy to provide a reference, and if so, what contact details I should include. I will need the reference by 17th July 2023 if you agree to write one.
If you choose not to, or are too busy to help, I quite understand. Thank you in advance for considering my request.
Dr Carter Woodson
We have a number of articles about medical references. Click the links below to read them.
This article is part of a wider series of comprehensive guides and information to help doctors ensure their F3 year is a success. We cover everything from initial planning, options for moving abroad, help with finding work, and tips for making the most of the experience.
Click here to visit our F3 Resource Hub to explore the full list of guides and articles.