Doctor’s receptionist: my side of the reception desk

Each day I come to work not knowing what the day will bring and as my surgery has grown so have my duties. There are less appointments and more patients that need our help.

On a usual day, if you can call it that way… the doors open and a wave of patients come inside. Some come in arguing with other patients about where their place in queue was, they make it to the desk and we proceed to call them over. We check them into the appointments they have already booked and those that are there to ‘beat the phones’ are given an appointment to come back later if we have any. An elderly patient may have a query about the prescription they ordered only yesterday and I will rush it through so they have it today. My colleague frowns that I’m not following the system, I ignore her.

Sometimes I might have to bend the truth to ensure situations don’t escalate unnecessarily. If I see a patient who is after some blood results and after checking the system it turns out the results are back but waiting for a doctor to read and action, I might say that they are not yet available and remind the patient that it might take up to a week. If I was to tell them the results are back but not read,  patients usually don’t appreciate that the doctor also has another 60 waiting among other administration tasks relating to results, hospital letters and referrals, so they anaemia level will just have to wait its turn.

As the morning goes on I deal with a number of tricky situations: some patients that persistently call the surgery even though they know we can’t offer them an appointment today, patients who forgot to order meds in time and are now blaming us for the gap in treatment, a pharmacy looking for a script that was given to them several days ago… and the list goes on.

By the end of my shift I am sometimes so emotionally drained I feel like I’ve been there for 12 hours. Despite my disillusioned tone, I really care about our patients and I do want to help but as the strain on general practice increases, the staff become more restricted and it’s not always possible. And it definitely makes my job very difficult.

I have to be firm but fair and make judgements without being medically trained on presenting cases. I have to be aware of patients with potential drug seeking behaviour patterns. Sometimes difficult safeguarding issues arise..

The worst situation I’ve ever encountered at our surgery was a patient losing his life on the premises. This opened my eyes and changed me as a receptionist. The patient has taken ill and was quickly taken to the doctor’s room, 999 was called and the surgery was closed due to the emergency. Unfortunately despite best efforts, it wasn’t possible to save him.

The first patient I called up to the desk to explain the delay understood and said they will come back tomorrow. The second patient, however, didn’t. He was uncaring and lacked compassion. I felt like crying at the sheer lack of humanity in some people. He asked how much longer and complained about the doctor already running late. I was shocked and had to break it down for him – a patient had lost their life at this very surgery today! He fell silent and sat back down.

After this I definitely changed as a receptionist I was more aware of the undisclosed problems that patients come in with. I feel that being a doctors receptionist has such stigma attached to it – it’s almost the same as a traffic warden, many assume that we are uncaring and total jobsworths but really we are doing a very difficult job dealing with different problems each day. I don’t feel that receptionist get the credit they deserve. On many occasions, it is the receptionist that ensures that vulnerable and struggling patients are seen. You might not even realise that they have spoken to the doctor in confidence on your behalf.

Working as a team is vital and our practice is closer than any I’ve heard of. We care about our patient list and each other and all help when a crisis arises, which sadly is often in the NHS nowadays. Saying that, this is not meant to be a negative post.

I actually love my job and get huge satisfaction from helping patients and their families. I also become attached to our ‘regulars’ and miss them when I don’t see them, although this is of course a good thing, and I remind them of this when they do reappear.

If you are reading this as a receptionist then you might relate to what I’ve written. If you are reading this as a patient then all I ask is please try and understand the pressure your local doctor’s receptionist is facing.


  • Linda harris
    Posted at 16:24h, 13 July Reply

    Spot on! I was a gp receptionist up until a year ago. Would never do it again. You have my utmost respect!

  • Linda harris
    Posted at 16:25h, 13 July Reply

    Spot on! I was a gp receptionist up until a year ago. Would never do it again. You have my utmost respect!

  • Deborah Pedley
    Posted at 21:27h, 17 October Reply

    I was also a GP receptionist until 6 months ago. Leaving the job was the best thing I ever did! The stress levels were unbearable. So was the lack of respect from not only the patients but also some colleagues. We could do a six hour shift and not get a drink or toilet break because we were so busy. Anyone who can do this job for years should get a medal!

  • Amanda Redfern
    Posted at 22:16h, 20 October Reply

    Yes. This is my job too & can totally agree with everything you have said. I Love my job & have been in the same surgery for 20 years.

  • Miss Nicola Mitchell
    Posted at 23:05h, 20 October Reply

    I think the receptionist do a fantastic job. And I don’t think they get enough praise for all there hard work they do day in day out.xx

  • Gabriela Hurtado
    Posted at 00:41h, 21 October Reply

    That is what I go through every day it’s the hardest job I’ve had to do so far but st the same time it makes me happy that I make a difference in people’s life. Be kind be respectful be human.

  • Fiona Birnie
    Posted at 07:12h, 21 October Reply

    Excellent account of our daily challenges however as you rewarding none the less, thank you for writing and raising awareness tip the public.

  • Lynn Buck
    Posted at 12:05h, 21 October Reply

    I’m a retired medical secretary and can totally understand, we all know that patients are ill, concerned and frightened, for the most part. It’s just sad that in certain people this is covered with bad temper or nastiness, we just have or in my case had to cope with it. You’re doing a great job, just know that!

  • Pat Carlin
    Posted at 18:36h, 21 October Reply

    35 years as a receptionist at the same surgery i retired 2 years ago and still miss it every day

    i loved my work , and made many friends over the years

  • Peter Williams
    Posted at 21:56h, 22 October Reply

    I am a patient. Thank you for caring and looking after me. You all have my love and respect.
    Peter Williams

  • Julie Longmore
    Posted at 22:17h, 23 October Reply

    I worked as a medical receptionist for several years. Last year August 17 was the last time I worked for them. With all the stress from the patients and abuse lack of support from colleagues and no team support made it in possible for me to carry on. I ended up having some sort off break down through stress panic attacks aswell as family issues causing issues. Even though I no longer work in this environment i really feel for anyone who works in the a surgery or hospital. Some places are better than others up and down the country. I believe the public need educating on how to speak to staff at surgies and hospitals and to understand how intense this job is also managers and head of practice need to appreciate there staff more and provide quality training and more support and become a team.

  • gilliam hirst
    Posted at 20:19h, 10 January Reply

    Had so much kindness from the back room staff at my doctors during a very trying time

  • Susan Giles
    Posted at 12:19h, 04 May Reply

    I retired last December as a gp receptionist after nearly 24 years and what changes there have been – and not for the better- I always loved my job and knew most of the patients by their first names and who the other family members were but I got to the stage when I hated the abuse and was very stressed and made the decision to leave – receptionists deserve a medal !!!!!

Post A Comment