Changing Times

I was chatting to a friend the other day and we were reminiscing about the “old days” and what our memories were as a child and how things have changed especially in our line of work over the years.

Mine was visiting my doctor as a child and just how things have changes so much over the years.

As a child I remember going into this great big house, (as a child I would have described this as a mansion) which was the Doctors Surgery, and where she lived. I can still remember so many details of that house, the grounds the house stood on, the big sweeping driveway that you drove in one way and out the other, the ivy climbing the walls and the great big red door to the main house – I always wondered what was beyond that door (this was the main entrance to the big house)

The Surgery entrance was at the side of the house, a smaller less obvious door and was black in colour. We would walk through the door and straight into the small waiting room – the receptionist sat in the same room behind a desk with one cabinet that held the notes.

Just one Doctor and one Receptionist, not even a nurse.

No fax machines, no computers, no scanners just a desk, a telephone with one line and one filing cabinet.

I used to think the receptionist was a nurse as she wore a white  coat. Confidentiality was unheard of as the receptionist discussed ailments with the patients and many personal details given at the desk for all to hear. Everyone would hang on to her every word as she spoke to patients on the telephone – often speaking names, addresses and ailments – no confidentiality at all – yet it seems to be accepted.

No radio or telly playing the background, no toys for the children to play with just a room with chairs and the reception desk.

I remember later on in years I went into that same reception area and as I approached the desk the receptionist looked up, beamed and said congratulations on your pregnancy – the room was full of people, and people in there that I knew but the worse for me was I wasn’t actually pregnant, she had in fact got me mixed up with another patient. It never entered my head to complain, to me a mistake was made and she was truly sorry when she realised her mistake. I wonder how that would have been handled these days?

We would then get called through to see the Doctor – as a child I was always in awe of her – she was old (or old to me as a child) but the one thing that enticed me into her room was the great big jar of jelly babies that sat proudly on her desk – if I was good I would always get a jelly baby before we left her room. I remember once actually getting 2 – I cannot remember if this was by mistake or if I had been particularly good.

The room was grand, it had big French doors opening onto a big garden, which would be wide open in the summer and in the winter months she would have a big open fire blazing away, not a fire guard in sight and her much-loved sheep dog would be lying in front of it. No Health and Safety issues back in those days.

There were no disabled access for patients in wheelchairs or any aids for people with special needs.

Training for patient care was basic yet then sufficient. Training for general practice was in its infancy.

Years rolled on and practices expanded and the new receptionist fared only slightly better. Often “sitting with Mavis” was accepted, the only method of training new staff. “Mavis” would tell the new receptionist what to do, showed her how to do it, and after a couple of weeks left her to discover the rest for herself.

The title of Practice Manager was practically unknown; staff were expected to learn fast, no doubt acquiring good habits as well as bad. The knowledge and skills for the role as the receptionist were picked up by trial and error, and some very inappropriate attitudes were acquired along the way.

Over the years the importance of general practice within the health service increased in leaps and bounds.

Practices grew in numbers; multi disciplinary teams worked under the same roof, the Practice Managers became an extremely important part of the Practice. Larger Practices would have a whole management team run what now has gone from a one-doctor practice into a Practice that could have many doctors’ nurses and numerous other healthcare professionals working together with one aim – Patient Care.

Patient care, confidentiality and health and safety became a vital part of our working day.

However, sadly, until recently, the methods of training Receptionists within some organisations have failed to keep pace.

It is now generally accepted that quality of care and job satisfaction go hand in hand. Staff need to know not only what they are doing but also why they are doing it – “sitting with Mavis” is just not acceptable anymore.

Receptionists must understand their role and how their individual job contributes to the care of the patients and the smooth running of the whole practice.

Receptionists need not only to be trained but also to continue their education and personal development in order to keep up to date with an “ever changing role.”

Training Reception Staff

  • Initial assessment should be part of the selection process before employment.
  • What knowledge and skills does the applicant have as a result of past experience?
  • Is the applicant flexible to fit in with the team?
  • Are the applicants knowledge and skills appropriate, and, if not, can they be modified by training and experience?

Training Programmes

Planning Receptionist training must take account information about the following:

  • What the Practice believes that their Receptionists need in order to improve performances and satisfaction in their daily work.
  • What new skills and knowledge the Receptionist needs to gain in order to cope with change.
  • What the Receptionists themselves feels they need/would like to learn in order to expand their skills.

Has your Practice moved with the times? Do you support your Receptionists with training?


© 2011-2017 Reception Training all rights reserved

The New Receptionist and The Team

If you have never worked in a GP Surgery it might come as quite a shock at the amount of people who are involved in running a Practice. There is a lot of staff behind the scenes that are not seen by the general public – but they all play a bit part in the smooth running of the Practice.  Here are some of the staff that you might come across whilst working in a GP Surgery.


  • Family Doctors are general medical practitioners or GP’s
  • Most consultants take place in the surgery, although doctors may visit patients in their home if they are too ill to attend surgery.
  • Usually GP’s will work different hours each day and some will work part-time.
  • Some GP’s will do clinics that they specialise in their local Hospital.
  • On top of seeing patients the Doctors have a pile of paperwork that needs to be completed every day from  signing prescriptions to filling out medical and insurance forms. They often are asked to sign passport forms. All of this takes a lot of their time.
  • Some of the Doctors at the Surgery will head certain parts of the Practice. You might have a Doctor that would be the staff Doctor working closely with the person in charge of staff. Or a Doctor that is the IT Doctor and will work closely with the person in charge of IT. Other areas of the Practice will also have a Doctor involved such as Flu Season and Diabetics/ heart Clinics – they usually work closely with the nurses on these subjects. This usually works well as one Doctor can feed back to the rest of the practice – and its beneficial to staff as their have one person that they can report to rather than several people.


  • Most surgeries will have a team of Practice Nurses and Health Care Assistants. Most surgeries will offer a full range of treatment room services including injections, dressings, ear irrigation suture removal, smears and blood taking and many more.
  • Some Surgeries have a phlebotomist – which is a person trained to take blood. Often a Receptionist can be trained up to do this.
  • Practice Nurses also monitor conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and blood pressure and may advise well women and give travel advice.
  • HCA’s (Health Care Assistants) will help the Practice Nurse in her day-to-day clinics.


  • District Nurses are registered general nurses with a certificate or diploma in district nursing. Their roles include assessing patient’s needs in their own home, checking patients following hospital discharge, giving professional nursing and advice and health education in the community. They can also nurse the terminally ill that chose to be at home rather than in the hospital. They work very closely not only with the patients but the patients family and friends.
  • District nurses work very closely with the practice to ensure that patients receive the best possible care and attention. Communication is vital and you as a Receptionist will be part of that team when passing verbal messages.



  • Often a surgery will have a team or a single health visitor. They might also have a nursery nurse and they supply support in all areas of childcare, safety and prevention of accidents in the home. They usually hold baby clinics in the surgery which incorporate some of the immunisation programme. They may also hold a number of courses including stress management and dietary advice.



  • The Surgery might have a midwife. The midwife will normally come in once or twice a week and run an ante-natal clinic for pregnant mums. By having a midwife in the Surgery it means that the pregnant mums can have their checks up at the Surgery rather than keep going to the hospital.



  • These may include staff you may meet within the Surgery that might include Clinical Psychologist, physiotherapists, counsellors and dietitians and other healthcare professionals.


  • Medical students can often be attached to the Practice. Patients will be advised by the receptionist when there is a student sitting in with the Doctor. If the patient is not happy with this please let the Doctor know before the patient goes into the room.



  • Locum Doctors are doctors that cover a Practice Doctor when they are on holiday, on a course or off sick for some time.
  • Some Practices use locums on a regular basis and therefore become very familiar with the Practice and become part of the team.


  • These are new qualified Doctors gaining experience in a Practice. A Registrar will usually shadow a Doctor and will sometimes take a clinic on his or her own. Again, you must explain to the patient that they are with the Doctor or working in place of the Doctor.
  • Registrar Doctors unlike Locum Doctors may be at the Practice for some months – therefore patients will ask to see them and they are very much become part of the team.



  • The patients will not often see the Practice Manager unless they have a query or a complaint. The Practice Manager is responsible for the smooth running of the practice and will usually do all the accounts HR and payroll. She will work closely with the Doctors to ensure that all areas of the Practice are running as efficiently as possible.  In larger Practices the Practice Manager will often have an Assistant Practice Manager and her own Secretary.


  • The Practice Manager might have a Management Team – especially for those larger Practices. The Management Team will often be made up of a
  1. Practice Manager
  2. Assistant Practice Manager
  3. Staff Manager
  4. IT Manager
  5. Accounts Manager / Payroll clerk
  6. Management Secretary
  7. Administrator
  • Some Practices will have more in their Management team – some a lot less.



  • Most Surgeries will have a Supervisor or a Senior Receptionist. She/he will take on the day-to-day running of the Reception area. The Supervisor / Senior Receptionist will work closely with the Practice Manager and the staff Doctor to highlight issues around Reception and staff.
  • If you have any concerns as a Receptionist your first point of contact should be your Supervisor / Senior Receptionist. You will usually notify her/him of any holiday that you wish to take – or speak to them in the event of your not coming into work due to sickness.  If you feel the need for any training you should highlight this with your Supervisor / Senior Receptionist.


  • The secretary for the Surgery is usually responsible for the typing of all the doctors’ correspondence. She has a lot of contact with the local hospitals regarding referrals and has contact with patients due to this. She will also have contact with other areas of the health care sector. You will often find that you will be directing telephone calls to the secretary – so be aware of the hours that she does – as often the secretary only works part-time.


  • The Practice will usually have a cleaner or a team of cleaners. Some Practices employ their own cleaners others use outside contractors. Cleaners are still an important part of the team – their job is important – and very crucial to the safe wellbeing of staff and patients.
  • But, if you are concerned at any time about the standards of cleaning, please do not ignore it; speak to your Supervisor / Senior Receptionist who will bring it to the attention of the cleaner. High standards of cleaning are vital.


  •  The brief outline of staff might give you so idea of what makes a Team at a Surgery.  It takes the whole team to make the Practice a success. Everyone is like a piece of a jigsaw – and when they all fit in together the team is complete.
  • As a Receptionist you will be the first point of contact for the patient either by telephone or when visiting the surgery. Your primary skill will be dealing with people when they might be distressed, or confused, either face to face or over the telephone.
  • You will need to understand the daily workings of your surgery, who works when and where and understand the appointments system.
  • You will need to know who to contact regarding certain issues, how to record a message and how to use your judgement in matters than seem urgent.
  • You will juggle with numerous forms, booklets, lists and sources of information.  Sometimes you may be called on to help a nurse, or act as a chaperone. At times, you will feel you are doing all these tasks at once, and getting grumbled at because you have forgotten to book a patient in, or simply forgetting to make that cup of coffee you promised someone over an hour ago. But please don’t despair if it all seems too much at first. We have all been there and got through it. No-one expects you to learn the job at once; it can take up to 6 months to really start to know your way around all the different systems and clinics.
  • Do not  despair  – but remember PLEASE ask – no one minds how many times you ask – they would prefer than rather than you make a mistake.

Working as a Doctors Receptionist is like Marmite – you either love it or hate it. love it and you will get a lot of job satisfaction from it and will probably be there for years.