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A Day in the life of a Receptionist


There is a stereotype of GP receptionists as dragons behind a desk - unsmiling individuals with a curt manner and an apparent determination to be anything but helpful.

This is a write up of a study published in the Daily Mail. The surgery thought it might be useful for patients to have an insight into a receptionists role. The article is by Dr Ward a senior lecturer at York University.

"Their detached manner is not intended to intimidate or belittle patients; it's actually a form of protection, to help them avoid emotional burn out. I discovered this after my colleague Dr Robert McMurray from Durham University and I were embedded with surgery receptionists over a 3 year period.

We observed over 30 receptionists at work in three surgeries. (not Chells this research was done elsewhere)

As specialists in analysing people's emotional responses to different situations, we were intrigued to observe the receptionists unique way of handling themselves. We came to realise this was an emotionally demanding job, receptionists can see 70 patients a day and their apparent lack of feeling provides a a shield against emotional exhaustion.

The following was a common scenario:


A queue of 6 or more people wait to speak to the receptionist on the other side of the glass window. The first, an elderly woman tearfully registering the death of her husband. Next, a smiling mum, here for her bouncing baby son's check up. Meanwhile, the phone is constantly ringing, and the receptionist knows that she needs to answer the phone to a patient, who is likely to be unwell and quite probably annoyed about having to wait so long. In the space of seconds the receptionist is faced with sorrow, happiness and anger.

It is impossible, and indeed would be unhelpful for the receptionist to empathise or mirror some or all of these emotions - he or she must remain in control of their own feelings and those of their patients. A technique they use is to remain neutral in the face of sometimes extreme emotions. Another challenge they face is being caught between the patient and the doctor. When a patient called asking for an emergency appointment that day for an ear infection, I watched as the receptionist relayed this to a doctor. However, the doctor told her it could wait until the following day- the receptionist then had the difficult task of relaying this to the patient. The result was an angry altercation. A more frightening incident involved a patient shouting at the receptionist for their methodone prescription. Once the prescription had been given, the patient went into the car park, took all the pills at once, washed down with a bottle of vodka, and then hurled stones at the surgery windows. On another occasion, a disturbed patient rang the surgery saying he was covered in germs and was trying to scald them off his skin with boiling water. While one receptionist calmed the patient, one retrieved notes and the other contacted a doctor.

Despite all of this there is little appreciation of the emotional stress and drain placed on GP receptionists - in some surgeries they receive little training in handling people or in diffusing high - pressure situations. Yet they are the stitching holding a surgery together, emotionally and administratively (for instance they are responsible for typing referral letters, updating records,) Any mistake could result in serious health implications for the patient. Meanwhile a good receptionist will go the extra mile for their patient. We witnessed those who, whenever they were unable to arrange an appointment when the patient wished, would phone a patient back if a slot became available.

There is a misconception that receptionists do nothing more than answer the phone and type names into a computer. In fact as our research shows, the job requires a high degree of emotional awareness and maturity. And so the next time you are presented with what looks like a sour face at your surgery reception desk, just remember that they do really care".

Written by Dr Jenna Ward (an article in the Daily Mail) This article is also available to read in the surgery.

Here at Chells our receptionists aim to be as helpful and cheerful as they possibly can be. The surgery has a compliment of 31 receptionists/administrators.

They reserve the right to go about their work without fear of inappropriate behaviour. Whilst we understand that patients may, on occasions, wish to raise complaints, concerns or feel frustrated there is a correct and appropriate way to raise these. The receptionist may not be able to answer your concerns and so you may ask to speak to one of the management team. We are always happy to work with patients to identify areas of improvement and resolve problems.

The surgery supports the Governments "Zero Tolerance" policy and will not tolerate slamming down phones, sarcastic tone, aggression, swearing, inappropriate demeanour or any other unacceptable behaviour towards staff or other persons present on the premises. Patients are given warning and/or removed from the surgery list immediately.

Please do let us know when we are providing you with a good service. It is encouraging when we hear positive feedback and it inspires us.

A single receptionist at Chells will see and assist approximately 180 people per day face to face.

The team of receptionists/administrators at Chells process in excess of 200 incoming letters per day, 350-400 repeat prescriptions per day , 500 phone calls per day, 100 incoming and outgoing faxes per day. Update approximately 500 records per day.

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Chells Surgery
265 Chells Way


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