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.

Managers Training: The Other Side of the Desk

When managing staff it is always good to give them feedback. Yearly appraisals are a good opportunity for this but why leave it once a year?

Here is a little exercise I used to carry out on my Reception staff.

Sit in your Reception area at the busiest time of day. Observe what is happening in your Reception area – see how the receptionist deal with patients how they cope with the busiest time of day and how they copes with the pressure that the busy time can bring.

Put yourself in the place of a patient – see it from their eyes and ask yourself how do they see our Surgery?

Have a note-book with you and take notes – but the most important part of the exercise is not only to pick up on any negative issues but also highlight the positive issues too.

What should you be looking for:

  1.  Is patient confidentiality being broken? Can people in the waiting room hear conversations from the Reception Desk? Patient confidentiality it vital in any Practice – and more so at the front desk.
    People in the waiting room can often hear conversations at the front desk. Make
    sure you staff use as little personal information as possible. Make sure that
    all your staff has the appropriate training on Patient Confidentiality. (see
    blog on A Quick Confidentiality Checklist.
  2.  How does the Receptionist interact with the patients? Do they have good eye contact? Are they polite and always helpful? It is easy to be short with patients when you have a queue of people at the front desk. Training in dealing with such times is vital – train your staff in dealing with such times –
    how to move patients on quickly without being rude or appearing that they are
    not caring. A smile and a thank you go a long way.
  3. How does the Receptionist answer the phone? Is it answered quickly enough? Does the Receptionist deal with the call efficiently? Always make sure that your staff answers the phone with good morning/good afternoon – the name of the surgery and their own name. Staff than give their name takes ownership of the call more than those that do not give their name. Again, if they are in ear shot of the waiting room it is important that they remember Patient Confidentiality.
  4. What are the other staff doing whilst the busy time is happening – are they helping out?  Often in Surgeries you have Receptionists at the front desk and others doing other things such as admin, typing, prescriptions – have you got a contingency plan for such busy times – if someone is busy on the front desk or on the phone do you have someone who can come and help out for short periods of time.
  5. Can you hear conversations between Receptionists behind the desk? When the quieter times come Receptionists often will have a little chat – but they should be made aware to be careful on what they are chatting about – I had an incident where 3 Receptionists were discussing a TV programme that was on the night before. They were discussing the programme about Breast Cancer and about a lady having terminal Cancer – they talked in-depth about the programme – talking about people who had lost relative/friends to the horrible illness. What there were not aware of was a patient was sitting listening to them in the waiting room that had just recently been diagnosed with Breast Cancer – she found the conversation very upsetting. Whilst I was doing
    this exercise I also heard Receptionists discussing an issue that could have
    upset a patient in the waiting room.
  6. Is the Reception area being kept clean and tidy? It is important to
    keep your reception area clean and tidy. Not just for a good impression but for
    Health and Safety reasons too – magazines, children’s toys left lying around on
    the floor is dangerous – someone could easily slip and fall.
  7. Are the patients kept waiting for long periods of time (often a problem in surgeries) This unfortunately happens in every surgery. Observe how your patients feel about it – and how your Receptionists deal with the patients if they come back to the desk to complain/enquire about their appointment running late. Do you have a policy on Doctors/Nurses running late?Do you have a surgery policy about Doctors/Nurses running late?

After you have done your observation bring them to your next staff meeting.

I always find the best way to approach this is to tell your staff that it was not an exercise to “catch them out” but an exercise to find if and where improvements can be made.

Always start with the positive notes you have:

  •  How well you thought the receptionist dealt with a certain patient/incident.
  • How good their telephone manner is.
  • How lovely and tidy the reception areas looks.
  • How pleased you were to see others helping each other at the
    busiest time.
  • How good they are with dealing with confidentiality.


If there are any (and I am sure there will be) go onto the negative things that you found – discuss them and ask your team to give their opinion. Ask if there is a better way it can be dealt with. Include them in any decision-making. Include them in your findings.

Staff do not like change so I always used to say – we can change it, try it and if it does not work we can look at it again.  This always used to work.

Make minutes of the meeting – ensure that you record any changes that are going to be made and ensure that everyone has a copy – including those that were unable to attend the meeting.

Turn those negative into positives.