Would you employ a Doctor or Nurse at your Practice that didn’t have any qualifications? No – so why did I even ask such a stupid question? Of course you wouldn’t. You go for the best candidate there is don’t you?
What is the first thing you look for on a CV? Previous experience, qualifications/training and the availability they can offer.
When you employ a Practice Nurse or another member to the healthcare team they are usually offered ongoing training. This will benefit the Practice, more clinics can be run, and therefore a better service offered to the patients.
So, why should a Receptionist be any different? They are part of the team, they are there to give a good service to the patients, and to support the Doctors, Nurses and the Practice Management Team and to achieve that they need the appropriate training to do this.
A good majority of General Practice Receptionists are woman, over 40 years of age and on average half have been in the job for more than five years. Four-fifths work part-time.
Comments from Receptionists are they have chosen the job because it dovetails with the rest of their lives.
What they get from their job is satisfaction from helping patients, meeting people, having a good relationship with colleagues and doing varied work.
Sources of stress include difficult patients, work pressures often down to shortage of staff, problems finding appointments to give to patients, and feeling caught between the doctors and the patients demands (piggy in the middle effect)
Dealing with difficult situations at the front desk, or over the phone is often highlighted in training courses, and often Receptionists feel unsupported when dealing with these incidents.
Many had a sense of teamwork with colleagues, but many did not perceive the whole practice as a team. Many felt the doctors failed to appreciate the pressure and complexity of their work.
A receptionist’s work is very complex, demanding and intense often involving a high level of commitment to patients, colleagues and the practice.
Speaking to Receptionists at various training sessions always bring different responses on how they feel supported by their Practice especially when it comes to training.
They vary from hardly any support at all, and having to learn whilst doing the job, to others that have support and training on a regular basis.
A role as a medical Receptionist is a bit like Marmite – you either love it or hate it. I have seen Receptionists lasting as short as a day to perhaps a week before saying “this isn’t the “nice little job I thought it was going to be’
A Receptionist that lasts is there because of their love for the job. If they do not feel supported they will leave, and move on to a Practice whereby they will be supported and appreciated. Don’t be that Practice that loses all your good staff.
I asked a group of Receptionists what did they think is most important when it comes to training for the role of a Doctors Receptionist – their replies included:
“Quality time to get used to the job and the rest of the team”
“Shadowing and taking notes, one to one time somewhere quite and more so when it comes to getting to grips with the computer system”
“Training on confidentiality – understanding what can and cannot be said”
“I must admit I was frustrated at being “thrown in at the deep end” approach. There has to be an element of this because of the nature of the role, but some protected time is needed”
“Reception training is an investment and saves time (and often tears) in the long run”
Learning to deal with difficult situations at the front desk – I was faced with a bereavement at the front desk recently and didn’t know how to handle it”
“Being able to ask questions that get fully answered”
I asked, “What training their Practice had for their Receptionists” and the replies included”
“I was told at my interview that an induction programme would be put in place for me when I started, and it never happened – although the intentions were there. There simply was never the right time”
“The two receptionists asked to train me on the job felt resentful and that they had been “landed with me which made me feel awful”
“Other staff members were often reluctant to explain things in fear I might ask more questions, they clearly felt under pressure”
“The office Manager was immensely encouraging to me and I learnt so much from her. She proved very canny at sensing when I was struggling and would step in with down to earth words and support”
“I had to cancel a couple of training courses due to staff shortages which meant I was needed in Reception – and to date I haven’t had the chance to re-do them”
“My Team Leader and Practice Manager are wonderful and support us Receptionist with ongoing training”
A new Receptionist needs time to pick up a wide range of skills and variables associated with this underestimated role. People learn in different ways and often at different speeds. Some are ace at IT and pick up the computer system in no time, but perhaps struggle with terminology. Some get flustered easily and find it difficult dealing with difficult situations; others are able to cope with the pressure that patients (and often doctors) throw their way on what can sometimes be an hourly basis.
The role of the Receptionist is endless. You never get to the point and are able to say “there I know it all now” every day brings something new.
I asked Receptionists how their felt that training has benefited them and their replies were”
“Good training can be enjoyable, fun and such a benefit to the Receptionist, the patients and the Practice”
“Patients deserve to have staff that are confident and comfortable in their role”
Patients will leave satisfied, and hopefully reassured’
“I enjoy training – I feel I have the space to ask questions and enjoy meeting others in similar roles”
“Doctors, nurses, Practice Management will be supported by the reception team and therefore be able to work more effectively themselves.
“Jobs are completed and not just “left” because the Receptionist is unsure about completing a task, be it a letter, phone call or a query at the front desk.
“Team members work more efficiently when everyone understands their role, and the role of others around them”
It is so important that a new Receptionist is given time, and more time if needed. Investment in staff right from the start is so important.
Take some time to find out the needs of your Practice and also the needs of the Receptionist.
You’re Receptionist are the ambassadors of your Practice and deserve to be supported in the role.