Medical References FAQs
When junior doctors decide they want to start doing locum work, they often have lots of questions about the process of registering with a locum agency, and in particular, the medical references they need to provide.
In this article, we hope to answer some of the most common questions about medical references and what you need to provide in order to start working as a locum doctor.
What is a medical reference?
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.
👉 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).
How many references do I need?
Most locum agencies will ask for at least two references but you will need to provide enough references to cover all of the experience listed on your resume that you want to have counted by the locum agency, so in practice this can be many more than two.
Your references will also need to cover any locum or shadowing work you have done during that time (if you want it to count as work experience on your CV).
If possible, try and minimise the number of references you need to provide, by choosing referees who can deliver the highest possible value with a single reference.
If your referee is not able to attest for some of the work listed on your CV (i.e. you chose an A+E consultant who was your clinical supervisor for one F1 rotation, but they cannot vouch for your work in the local psychiatric unit at the end of your F2 Year), then you may need to provide additional references to cover all areas of your CV and experience.
While not essential, it is ideal if your referee comes from the specialty you are trying to get work in.
Can any Consultant that I have worked with be my referee?
A referee should be:
✅ A consultant grade doctor
✅ You have worked with directly
✅ Within the last 3 years (or 2 if you are an F2 doctor)
✅ Who can speak about you in a glowing way
✅ In relation to a particular specialty or quality
It can be any Consultant from a department you have worked in, as long as you worked with them (and they are likely to say nice things about you). It does not necessarily need to be the head of department, the most senior consultant, your clinical supervisor, or the consultant you worked with the most.
You might want to tactically choose someone who is better at managing their admin and responding to emails, or someone who doesn’t get asked for references by everyone else.
Which Consultants should I pick from my Foundation Training?
For the sake of efficiency, it is good practice choose referees who can cover as much of your work experience as possible. This minimises the number of references you need to collect, and reduces the administrative burden on yourself and your referees.
Educational supervisors who’ve worked with you for at least a year can vouch for all of your training experience during that time. So can foundation programme directors (if you have a good relationship with them) as they likely oversaw your ARCP and can attest to your work.
Consultants from the specialties you want to locum in are also good choices, as they will be helpful in making your application stand out. You may also be asked for a reference from your most recent rotation.
If you have done any locum work or shadowing in a department where you haven’t had a training rotation (i.e. you locumed in A+E but you did not do a foundation placement in A+E), it is worth getting a reference to cover that experience, particularly if you want to work in this specialty again in the future.
Can I use the same referee twice if I have worked with them in two different capacities i.e. clinical supervisor and educational supervisor
No. If you need to provide two references, then it needs to be from two different referees. If you have worked with one doctor in multiple capacities then their single reference may cover more areas of your CV, but it still only counts as one reference. The exception here is if you worked with the same consultant with a significant gap between the two periods their references might cover i.e. you worked with them as an F1 and again as a CT2. In this case, it might be appropriate for you to use the same person twice, though their CT2 reference would likely replace the older reference.
Will consultants be annoyed if I ask them for a reference?
It’s easy to feel like you are bugging them, especially if you are using your referees for locum work and for training applications! But they understand that it's a necessary part of you getting work and will do what they need to do to help.
Things you can do to make it easier for them to provide your reference are:
✅ Choosing someone you already have a bit of a relationship with.
✅ Being polite, gracious, and grateful for their support in your emails to them.
✅ Providing as much information as you can to help them complete the reference (more on this below).
✅ Using OneRef, which reduces the amount of admin they need to do on your behalf.
What details should I include when contacting a referee?
If you are emailing a consultant to ask them to be your referee, make sure you include the following details in your email:
✅ What you are asking them for (a reference) and why (to secure locum work with X agency, X Trust, or in X specialty).
✅ 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 (try and be as specific as possible as they will need to provide a day, month, and year on the reference form).
I have done some locum work recently, do I need a reference to cover this?
If you have done regular locum work outside of your main Trust, you may need a reference to cover this period. This will depend on how much work you've done there and how regularly. The locum agency will exercise their judgment as to whether this is necessary or not.
If it is in a specialty in which you have lots of experience already, and you have another reference to cover your skills in that specialty then you may not need to provide a new reference. However if the work was in a new specialty then you may need to collect a reference for this work.
I haven’t worked for several months but I’m being asked to provide up-to-date references. How do I do that?
It is common for doctors to take time off work if they leave the training pathway, so don’t worry too much about gaps in your CV. If these can be explained (i.e travelling, parental leave, or time off due to sickness) then note in your CV what you were doing in that time and you won’t need to reference it.
If you did a little bit of locum work here and there, you can collect references for short bursts of work but this is definitely harder to do in retrospect as you may not remember the names of the consultants you worked with, and they might not really remember you well either.
Your options are:
✅ Double check with the person asking for a reference to make sure they definitely need one.
✅ Contact medical HR for the Trust you worked with and see if they can provide the reference for you.
✅ Ask the Trust rota coordinator for the name and contact details for the consultant you worked with that day and send the an email asking for a reference (make sure to include as much information as possible to help them remember you and make it easier for them to complete the reference).
✅ Ask your locum agency if they can provide you with the reference for the work you did.
✅ Rely on older references for now, and next time you work be sure to get up to date references for your CV.
How do I ‘collect’ a reference?
There are a number of ways to gather references, but for the purposes of locuming Messly now use OneRef which is a programme that reduces the amount of admin that consultants need to do in order to provide your reference.
It works like this:
👉 You ask a consultant if they’re happy to provide you with a reference.
👉 If they agree, you upload their contact details to OneRef through your Messly account.
👉 They get sent a reference form to complete.
👉 This form can be shared with multiple locum agencies without the need for it to be re-completed each time (which was the case before OneRef).
👉 You can view a copy of your reference and add it to your medical portfolio (unless the signing consultant has specifically denied you access to view the reference).
Some agencies still accept hand-signed hard copies of references. To get one, you may need to write and print a reference letter that includes key information about your locum work and get a referee to sign it in person. You can then upload the reference to share with locum agencies or to save in your Portfolio. However, some agencies may not accept it depending on how detailed the information provided in the reference is.
Should I let a referee know that I will be sending them a reference request?
Absolutely! It is good etiquette to ask someone if they are happy to provide you with a reference before you send them the form. If you want to use them for a reference again in the future (i.e. for a training application) it is polite to inform them that you will be requesting a repeat reference. Doing this will also increase your chances of getting a swift response from them as they will be expecting the reference request in their inbox.
If you’re still working together, we suggest asking them in person. If you aren’t working together, drop them an email.
If I’m registering with multiple locum agencies, will each one contact my referees separately?
Our new OneRef reference service allows you to collect your references directly through Messly without the need to share the details of your referees with any agencies. OneRef will ask for a single reference per referee, and then that reference can be shared with all agencies on Messly.
OneRef is 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.
OneRef is only available for agencies on Messly. Outside of Messly, references can’t generally be reused as NHS rules state that each locum agency needs to individually receive references directly from the Consultant. This means that if you are registering with agencies externally to Messly you will need to collect multiple references from the same referee (one reference per agency).
Who contacts my referees for a reference?
Agencies can make a request for a reference through OneRef. If the reference has already been completed, your referee will simply need to approve the new request being made but they won't have to complete another form.
Alternatively, you can also proactively reach out to your referees and collect references from them before the agencies make the reference request. We've provided you with a personalised link to share with your referees. We find referees are more likely to complete references much faster if they come from a colleague.
How do I give agencies permission to access my references on OneRef?
First, click the 'Docs' tab on your profile. Then, click the 'Requests' tab on the left hand side of the page. Under 'Approved Organisations', you'll see all of the agencies who have requested your references.
The agency will either have a green tick and a note saying 'Can contact referees', or a red cross with a note saying 'Cannot contact referees'. To change the status of an agency, click the blue 'Change' button. You'll need to do this for each agency that requests your references.
See the image below for additional guidance.
Log into your Messly account now to start collecting references through OneRef. Or, check out our Ultimate Guide to your Medical Portfolio where we link all of our articles about medical references, portfolios and appraisals.
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.
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