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Appropriate Referees


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Just wondering:


Who are appropriate referees for the med school reference letters?


Someone in a position of authority who has worked with you closely enough to comment favourably on your suitability for medicine.


Two major types of references are academic and non-academic. Academic references should be able to attest to your ability to handle the workload of medical school and to your aptitude for learning and retaining knowledge, studying, etc. Generally speaking, this will be a professor. Not necessarily a science professor - my academic reference was an English professor.


Non-academic references can attest to your character and other important qualities, such as compassion and volunteerism. Generally speaking, this will be an employer or a volunteer supervisor.


Obviously, things don't always fall neatly into one or the other, but employers/supervisors and professors are good places to start looking.

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Thanks for the reply!


My main concern with my references is that right now I have 2 (a professor who supervised my research this summer and a person that I volunteer with), and need a third, but pretty much everything else that I do for ECs is student-run/I run it, so no one really is there to oversee these activities who is not a student.


Aside from that, pretty much the only people who I feel could comment on my compassion would be family friends/people who are not in my family that have seen me grow up, but of course, these are frowned upon as references.


Any suggestions on who I could ask?

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Don't take my word as law, but when I applied this cycle, one of my references was a fellow student. She was my training coordinator at a volunteer gig, so even though she was also a student, albeit a grad student, I felt that since she was in a position of authority (responsible for conducting training and evaluating and passing me as a new volunteer), it didn't matter. After all, there's nowhere where someone has to state their age when they write you a letter. So if it's an activity run by a student and you trust that student to give the task mature and professional attention, it's something worth considering. I really felt that she would write me a great reference that would highlight some strengths that were not shown in my other letters, so I went for it, and it turned out fine.


Otherwise, you could work on maybe finding another professor, maybe one you took a class with?

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Just so you are aware, others have used a high school teacher with whom they have kept in contact when they don't have profs to go to.


And remember, you should let your referees have your transcript, updated CV and a motivational letter (like your U/T Essay) personally addressed to each referee so you fill in all the gaps.


You only want someone who will be a strong advocate for your entry into med school, who is credible and knows you and who gives context, i.e., some examples or stories about you that illustrate the characteristics stated.

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So that your inexperienced referee knows what med schools are looking for, the below gives some helpful context: :)


The 2008 McGill Confidential Referee Report covered the following attributes to be measured from exceptional - superior - strong - average to weak:


a. Compassion, empathy, caring

b. insight, judgment, c ommon sense

c. Honesty, integrity

d. Adaptability, tolerance, flexibility

e. Respect for others

f. Reliability, rersponsibility, dependability

g. Creativity, innovation, intellectual curiosity

h. Notable experiences and interests

1. assurance in ambiguity, dealing with uncertainty

j. Autonomy, leadership, initiative

k. Teamwork, dealing with others

l. Dealing with conflict

m. Community involvement, dedication, professionalism


They had to state their relationship, how long they have known you, what is their primary source of knowldege (personal experience, 3rd party sources or objective/measured sources) AND had to say which phrase best described their level of knowledge from:

very well infored

well informed

informed enough


best guess

In terms of assessing your detailed above attributes, they were asked to place a mark to indicate for each characteristic if you were exceptional (top 2-3%), superior (top 10%) etc...In my view if you are not in top 20% for some and most top 10%, you are given the kiss of death.

I recall, they wanted to know how many similar students they have rated or experienced. In other words, if you are judged in the top 2% from a pool of 5-10 students, it is meaningless, whereas if they are judging you based upon 100 or more, then their value is greater, like a prof who has seen thousands of students, as opposed to a horse riding instructor who perhaps has had no more than 25 students of your age group

They want to know how long the referee has known you..and there was a space for comments for each attribute.


They warned the referee they are seeking the candid, honest and fair opinion and seek for the referees to confine their assessment to your suitability for medical practice

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This is very helpful, but I just have a couple more questions. I have been out of school for 5 years, and though I sporadically keep in touch with one of my former professors she would only be able to answer what I was like 5 years ago when she taught me. Currently I work in the health care field and my ICU supervisor is willing to give me a reference. I am wondering if a coworker might also be a legitimate choice? I'm not sure who else to choose, I volunteer at the humane society but have only done so for 1 year and I don't have much contact with the volunteer supervisor because I walk the dogs so all she sets is my schedule. I also play soccer but have only done so for 1 year and its semi-competitive women's. Any other suggestions would be much appreciated!

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You want a supervisor and not a coworker as it should be someone in authority - so here is what you do (and others have done this before). :)


In view of the importance of this matter, your coworker prepares the LOR for the signature of the supervisor, who should sign as the other person vouches for the contents.


Any other questions?

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Thanks so much, it seems obvious now that you've said it! I am having a problem choosing my third referee, I was thinking of a family friend I have known since I was young who is a teacher and has seen how involved I was with soccer throughout my youth, and knows my character very well. I am not sure how it looks to have a family friend write a reference letter. Other choices are my soccer coach from ages 16-22 (I'm 28 now), or my minister who has known me since I was 6. So many questions! Thanks so much for your help, seems hard to come up with 3 references when you've been out of school for so long!

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If the referee even sniffs of being a family friend, there could be a problem in terms of not being objective. However, if this person was your teacher this is another matter. Soccer coach is fine and perhaps better than the Minister, although he is a decent backup. Let them have your CV, transcript and motivational letter - and go over with them what is required. They need to be credible and strong advocates for your acceptance and confirming they see you as a compassionate physisican who they would go to because.........

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