Your referees are arguably the most important aspect of your CV or Resume. It is important to carefully consider who you choose to speak on your behalf. Some employers look for recognisable names or organisations in your referee list. This is why referees are always listed last on your CV or resume.

Should you list referees on your CV as a Doctor? The answer is yes. In medical applications it is expected that you will list referees. You should list them as the very last item on your CV. The employer will generally not proceed to offer you an interview without them. In regards to who to choose. You are normally requested to list 3 referees. So it is generally recommended that at least one of these be a current or recent supervisor (last 6 months). One should be someone senior within the specialty you are applying (preferably a consultant). Your final referee should be someone different from the previous two. This is in order to display your diversity and ability to make good connections in your work teams.

Its a lot more complex than this. For example, often your recent supervisor is also a Consultant. And you can sometimes list more than 3 referees. So I’m going to explain things in a bit more detail, including how, who and when to approach referees, how to keep them updated, and conclude with a recommendation as to how you list your referees on your CV.

Referee Choice.

So. Who are the best people to choose for referees? Most job applications these days are online and in the online, eRecruitment systems you generally have the opportunity to list 3 up to referees. However, you often do not have complete choice in who you list.

Many prospective future employers will ask for you to list at least one referee who is your current supervisor or manager. Or at the very minimum a recent supervisor. If you are opting for a recent supervisor try to include someone who was supervising you in the past 6 months.

Why do they want to speak to a recent supervisor? The reason is simple. The employer wants to check on your current performance. Sometimes candidates list supervisors that they worked for several years ago who can give quite glowing appraisals. The problem is the same candidate has had a series of bad job outcomes in more recent times.

Actually, it is generally sensible to have at least 2 of your referees be current or recent supervisors. That way there can be no doubt from the employer that you are genuine about your recent work history and very happy for them to contact the people they want to contact.

The Final Slot.

You should try to reserve the third slot for someone who helps you demonstrates the diversity of your connections and is different from your other two referees.

For example, if both your supervisor referees are late middle-aged male consultant orthopaedic surgeons, then being able to list a female colleague from another department or even another profession would be a distinct advantage.

Whilst the online recruitment systems will generally limit you to 3 referees. There is no reason why you cannot list more than three on your CV or resume if you think this helps your application. But be sure that you are listing the same top 3 referees in the same order on your application as your CV.

The Importance Of References

The reason why job references on doctor CVs are listed last is to make them easier to find. Most employers when reviewing your CV for the first time will only take a few seconds to consider it. They will quickly review the short details on your front page, note your name, scan your personal or career statement and check out what recent jobs you have done. They will then flick over to the back to see if they recognise any of your referees or the places that your referees work at. That’s it.

Experienced recruiters know to weight the value of a well-taken reference or set of references above the quality of your interview performance. This is because studies show that references have greater predictive validity in selection.

Often References Are Poorly Utilized.

Sadly, many of the doctors you will encounter on selection panels do not know this fact and place too much emphasis on the interview performance. But this does not mean that they are not interested in your referees. They are.

Another problem with referees and reference reports is that they are often conducted and collected poorly, particularly in bulk medical recruitment processes.

Sometimes your referees are contacted before your interview (which is better as it avoids confirmation bias) often this is done afterwards. In any case, it is a requirement that your references are taken prior to being offered a position if you are a successful candidate. So, referees both act as evidence of your quality as a candidate as well as a verification that what you have said about yourself is indeed true.

So. Who should I choose for my referees?

As I have already stated in most industries it is expected that your first referee will be your current supervisor or manager and your second referee will generally be you’re the previous supervisor or manager.

Medicine can be a little different particularly for trainee doctors who are rotating around frequently. You are often interacting with several supervisors and managers on a regular basis. So it can be tough to work out exactly who constitutes a current or recent manager or supervisor.

There are three key principles that I outline to trainee doctors when selecting referees to help to make things a bit easier. The first is recency, the second is relevancy and the third is diversity.

There are three key principles that I outline to trainee doctors when selecting referees to help to make things a bit easier. The first is recency, the second is relevancy and the third is diversity.

Dr Anthony Llewellyn | Career Doctor

Recruiters will generally want to speak to someone who has recently worked with you, preferably your current manager. In some circumstances, this is a requirement. If you are a senior medical practitioner its usually fairly obvious who this person is. If you are an intern or a resident or a specialty trainee you actually have quite a range of options all of which will generally be acceptable to the selection panel.

Recent Supervisor Options For Trainee Doctors.

Some good options for trainees might be your Director of Training, Director of Medical Services or Medical Workforce Unit or JMO Manager. You might also consider your Nurse Unit Manager.

As a trainee doctor, you also want at least one referee who is relevant to your chosen career. For most this generally means one Consultant who is a Fellow of the Specialty College you are aiming to enroll with.

Some doctors in training try to have 3 College Fellows listed as their only referees and worry if this is not the case. It can be incredibly hard to collect 3 good referees from one College and I actually don’t recommend this approach. You are far better off focusing on obtaining one College referee who has actually supervised you in a term. Most trainee doctors will have a chance to work one term in their preferred specialty before applying for posts.

Rounding Off Your Referees.

So who else might you ask to act as a referee? This is where diversity is a consideration. There may be a Consultant from another specialty who you got on well with in their term. If so, it’s a good idea to put them down. Other options include: Nurse Managers, Senior Allied Health Professionals, and Advanced Trainees. The key consideration here is that these should be people that you have worked with who have gotten to know you reasonably well.

I would also recommend that at least one of your referees is male and at least one is female.

By having a diverse list of referees you are telling the selection panel that you value teamwork and the roles of others in the team and also that you are able to get on well with and connect with a range of different people in the workplace.

More senior medical practitioners will probably go with their current Supervisor, for e.g. Head of Department and if working in a hospital possibly their Supervisor’s supervisor, for e.g. the Director of Medical Services. They may also then opt to diversify out the final referee by seeking a reference from a peer in another profession, which is generally either a straight out Manager or another health professional in a senior or management role.

Having More Than 3 Referees.

Very occasionally you are asked to list 2 referees but in most cases you are asked for at least 3. There is actually a practical reason for this.

In order to progress you to a job offer, the panel will generally be required to contact at least 2 referees. So this means that if they are contacting your referees after the interview its almost generally a good sign. They usually stop at 2. The third referee is there in case one of your other 2 referees are not able to be contacted.

So one of the key things to think about with your referees is are they going to be available at the time that they are likely to be needed. If your referee is attending an overseas conference don’t let this be the thing that stops you from finding out about your application result!

But there is no rule that says you have to stop at 3 referees. You can list more. And it may be sensible to add a couple of more referees in case one or two of the top ones might be hard to contact. You may also feel that additional referees enhance your candidacy further. Extra referees can, for example, demonstrate your ability to be a team player by listing additional referees from a range of areas of medicine and a range of disciplines.

You might also have some academic or research supervisors that you wish to include. Even though the job you are applying for is clinical.

More than 5 or 6 referees on a CV however is probably excessive.

The Order Of Your Referees Is Important.

You should also be mindful of the order in which you list your referees.

Remember that the first two people listed on your CV as a referee are the ones that will be contacted first for a reference. So you should generally order your list of referees in the order that you would prefer them to be contacted. However, if one of your referees is someone you have not worked with in over 12 months then you should either rethink using them as a reference or put them a bit further down your list (at 3rd or 4th or 5th spot).

How to Actually Write Up Your Referees.

For online applications, you normally just fill in the boxes as they are ordered. You will probably be aked for your referees name, their phone and email contact details and possibly also some information about their working relationship with you.

On your CV or Resume you should list your referees as follows:

[Prefix] [First Name] [Second Name], [Job Title] [Organization], [Location], [Phone Number], [Email]


Dr Sandy Duncan, Head of Department of Medicine, St Cliffs Hospital, Sydney, 6122 222 222,

You may wish to add relevant qualifications (e.g. College Fellowship) if this clarifies the nature of the referee better. But you don’t need to list all of their qualifications.

You generally do not need to provide a physical address or postal address.

If possible list a mobile phone number and email address as this helps the person taking a reference.

Approaching Referees and Keeping Them Updated

You should feel free to approach anyone you feel would act as a useful referee.

For trainee doctors, the end of the term is a good time to ask for references. Ask anyone in your team that you are comfortable with if they would be happy to act as a referee for you, i.e. your Consultant, your Registrar, your Nurse Unit Manager. Ask them if it would be ok to use their mobile number and email address. But at this stage, it is generally not useful to ask them to write you a reference. And you should politely decline such an offer if it is made. This may end up being unnecessary.

It is important to keep your referees up to date about your career plans. For anyone you have decided you would like to use as a referee try to keep in reasonably regular contact with them even if it is having a quick coffee with them or dropping them an email.

Coming Up To Recruitment Time.

As you are approaching the recruitment period. Finalise who you are wanting to act as a referees and get in contact with them again. Remind them who you are. Many busy consultants and Nurse Unit Managers see quite a number of medical students and trainee doctors in a year so they may need a bit of a prompt.

Tell them your plans (what you will be applying for and roughly when). Let them know what might be required of them (for e.g. will they have to fill in an electronic reference, will they need to write a letter of reference to the College?).

Once you have completed your CV send it to them in an email so they have something to base their reference on. Some referees can be quite popular and most are quite busy so a quick email summary of your CV and your interactions with them can also be useful.

Related Questions.

Question: Are there some referees I should avoid or seek out?

Answer. As a trainee doctor, in particular, you may be worried that a certain referee may be tougher than another referee or that some referees carry more weight because of their name, reputation, and connections.

There is a small amount of evidence that more junior consultants are likely to give more glowing references than seasoned or experienced consultants.

But really there is no hard and fast way of knowing whether a referee is more or less likely to improve your chances of an interview or successful job application. Gut feel is probably your best ally here. If you feel that you have established a good authentic working relationship with a referee, they are likely to give you a good reference or at worst a balanced one.

Personally, I would avoid any referee that infers that their name on your CV will carry some sort of additional weight.

Question: Is it OK to put down “Referees Available Upon Request”

Answer. Wherever possible you should attempt to list your referees for the selection panel. In some cases, however, there may be some sensitivity around giving out referees, particularly as you progress in seniority. Candidates may sometimes want to speak to the employer first before contacting a referee or they may want to feel that they have a good chance of getting the job before alarming their current employer. In some cases, they may just be having trouble contacting their referee because they are aware. Employers recognise that the words “Referees Available Upon Request” means that the candidate needs to have a conversation first. So its ok to do this if your situation really does call for it.

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