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Best Friend or Worst Enemy? Choosing The Right Medical Referees

Right Medical Referees

Choosing the right referee for your next healthcare position can be the single biggest factor that influences whether you get the job or not. Choose the wrong referees, and it can have long-lasting negative effects on your entire career or training path.

Reference checks are still used by most employers as a final screening tool, and also as a selection method for medical training programs. Some training programs require over ten referees in order to make a decision.

Selecting your referees ought to be a well thought out decision, not just based on who you think might “say nice things” about you. Let’s be clear – they have the potential to make or break your career.

When you are thinking about who to ask to be a referee, consider:

  • Did they supervise you? (ideally, yes)
  • Did they work with you for more than a few weeks?
  • Have they ever provided feedback to you? (e.g. a term report or assessment)
  • Did you ever have any issues or interpersonal difficulties with them?
  • What is your ‘gut’ feeling about how they would assess your performance?
  • Are they the right referee for the job/training program?
  • Are they going to be difficult to contact?
  • Make sure you have their mobile number and email address

When you have a shortlist prepared, make sure you get in contact to ask them first. It’s not enough just to put down their contact details, and hope for the best. Not only is that unprofessional, you risk an adverse reference, or they may be on holidays or otherwise unavailable.

The best way to ask them is in person, or over the phone. Explain to them the reason for the reference check (e.g. new job, training program), and when they will likely be contacted. If you have a copy of the reference check template that will be used, give that to them ahead of time so they can think about their responses. If there is very specific information that will be asked, provide the position description, and any other information you have. For example, many referees for the NSW Locum process find it difficult to provide details of the clinical skills of potential JMO locums. It may be of benefit to provide the Clinical Skills Assessment to your referees in this case.

When you do ask them, you need to get an idea of how they will likely assess your performance. You can get this from previous performance assessments, or by asking them for feedback. This could go something like: “It would be great to get an idea of some of the areas you think I could work on before my interview. Do you have any suggestions?”.

It’s fairly standard for employers to ask for 2-3 referees, though this seems to be steadily increasing. Depending on your position and profession (e.g. doctor, nurse, dentist, etc), it is advisable to have at least ten referees you can draw from, especially if you are making multiple applications. Referee fatigue is a real issue, and by the time they get to your third or fourth reference, they are not going to be so enthused about the process. So, it’s good to rotate them if possible.

As a healthcare recruitment and locum agency in Australia, we speak with hundreds of referees each week, and it becomes evident when a referee is either tired of providing references, or just doesn’t want to – they ‘hide’, and don’t reply. We find that candidates with stronger applications have enthusiastic, helpful referees who get back to us very quickly.

A common issue that more experienced practitioners (like GPs, and more independent specialists, like surgeons, anaesthetists, etc) face is that it is a long time since they have actually been supervised by someone. This is even more so for solo general practitioners in rural and regional areas. If you are in that position, we would encourage you to draw on your network of colleagues, other health professionals (e.g. nurses or allied health), and people whom you refer to, or refer to you. Generally speaking, non-clinical referees are not accepted, unless it is specifically requested.

So, before you apply for your next medical or locum job, remember:

  • Ask first, always!
  • Have a pool to draw from – try to avoid referee fatigue
  • Give them as much information as possible
  • Ask for feedback before you nominate them as a referee
  • For solo, and experienced practitioners, think laterally for options

Become a Beat Medical Insider to learn more about common referee mistakes, as well as CV writing and interview skills.

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