Writing a reference

Before you start

  • Do you know this person well enough to be able to provide a useful reference? Is your knowledge recent enough?
  • Ask the person to give you a list of accomplishments, organisations that he/she belongs to, or any other relevant information. It might surprise you to see how much that person has done outside of your contact with them. This can also help you get a more accurate picture of the individual. Having the person give you a copy of his/her resume or curriculum vitae is an easy way to have this information at hand.
  • Discussion with person
    • What do you see as your positive attributes?
    • What do you see as your weaknesses?
    • Why are you going for this particular job? What do they offer you?
    • What can you offer that practice?
    • Any disadvantages?

The reference

Paragraph 1

Explain your connection to the person, including how you know them, and why you are qualified to write the reference.

  • Identify your relationship with the person for whom you’re writing the reference letter.
  • State how long have you have known or worked with the person.

Paragraph 2 onwards

Give honest, factual and specific information on the person, including qualifications, what they can contribute, and why you are providing a reference letter.

  • Picture the person in his or her job role.
  • Point out a variety of positive traits while focusing on work ethic, accomplishments, skills, and significant contributions to the practice (use specific examples).
  • Be positive: use words such as excellent, superior, instrumental, creative, innovative, efficient, dependable, articulate, meticulous, self-starter and confident.
  • Use powerful words such as articulate, effective, sophisticated, intelligent, observant, significant, expressive, creative, efficient, cooperative, imaginative, assertive, dependable, mature and innovative.
  • Avoid vague, powerless words such as nice, good, fine and reasonable.

Consider the appraisal headings:

  • Good clinical care
  • Maintaining good medical practice
  • Teaching and training appraising and assessing
  • Relationships with patients
  • Working with colleagues
  • Probity
  • Health

The following list of attributes (compiled by the National Association of Colleges and Employers) is often listed by employers as tools on which to base eventual selection. So, these are excellent points to address (with factual evidence):

  • ability to communicate
  • intelligence
  • self-confidence
  • willingness to accept responsibility
  • initiative
  • leadership
  • energy level
  • imagination
  • flexibility
  • interpersonal skills
  • self-knowledge
  • ability to handle conflict
  • goal achievement
  • competitiveness
  • appropriate vocational skills
  • direction.

The 1991 ASCUS Annual listed the following eight intangibles as important when evaluating candidates:

  1. empathy,
  2. native intelligence,
  3. a divergent, abstract thinking style,
  4. a high level of commitment,
  5. the ability to be a “self-starter,”
  6. a high energy level,
  7. the recognition that excellence is a journey, not a destination, and
  8. the potential ability to lead.

Don’t reference characteristics that can be the basis of discrimination, such as race, colour, nationality, gender, religion, age, appearance, any handicapping condition, marital or parental status, or political point of view.

Would you like to have this doctor as a partner in your practice? Why?


A brief summary of reference.


The concluding paragraph of the reference letter template contains an offer to provide more information. Include contact details.

Before posting

Proofread and sign.


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