I’m no stranger to hating a receptionist, I’ve hated MANY receptionists and most of them have been the abrupt, seemingly nosy ones that man the phones at my local doctors surgery. So it was quite interesting being on the other side of the desk and phone for a year during my working holiday visa.

When I started my job I vowed that I wouldn’t be the impatient, uncaring woman who I was used to hearing when I called up for my appointments (that is when I actually managed to get through.. over 50 attempts it once took me!). No, I was going to be the thoughtful, patient lady that I wished would pick  up the phone when I was sick.


Two separate occasions in one year.

So, after a year of being the other woman, here are some of the lessons that I learnt.

Note:These are from my personal experience, working in a single private surgery for one year, I can’t speak for receptionists in other situations especially the NHS.


  1. Contrary to popular belief, we do not think that we are doctors.
    Sure, I’ve had to ask people what their appointment is for and it’s actually very logical. If patients are coming in for a general sick appointment then fine, 15 minutes should do them. However, if their problem is more complex i.e. they need something removed or it’s a psychological issue then they usually need more than the average 15 minutes. Other reasons we could be asking is if a child needs a vaccination there may be a shortage of vaccs or there may not be enough staff on that day. If there’s a bad strain of cold or flu or something worse (like last years threat of MERS) we may need you to go to a different type of clinic altogether. If we didn’t ask then we wouldn’t be able to schedule people correctly which may result in your time being wasted or may result in the doctors running severely behind.. which takes me on to my next point.
  2. Doctors running late.
    I know it’s terribly annoying and inconvenient when the doctor is running behind schedule, and I know the only person you can complain to is the receptionist and that is fair enough. Often times we have a good idea of why they’re running behind and there’s usually a very good and a very sensitive reason why you’ve not been seen on time. It would be easy if we could tell you that unfortunately the current patient has just been given some very bad news and that’s why you’re having to wait 20 minutes longer but that breaks confidentiality laws and is just downright wrong! And don’t think we’re sat there filing our nails behind the computer screen, no, we’re trying to prevent the doctor from running further behind and letting other patients know the situation, all whilst fielding incoming calls, emails and tending to other admin duties at the same time.. it’s no fun for us either!
  3. Again, we are NOT doctors.
    There seems to be two types of people, people who think doctors receptionists think that they are qualified medical professionals and those who think that receptionists actually ARE qualified medical professionals. I heard a lot of symptoms in my stint, I had lots of questions regarding child vaccine schedules and medication and what temperature constitutes a fever. Eventually I could answer most questions, but I didn’t because I’m not a doctor nor a nurse and I do not want to be responsible for giving the wrong information. You’d be surprised that for every person who complains about being asked about symptoms, there are 2 more who happily volunteer the information.
  4. We’re not ignoring you.
    My biggest irk was when I was sick and I called up right on the dot at opening time to get an appointment and then nobody would answer my call, I seriously redialed about 50 times once. I was sat there wondering what they were all doing, eating weetabix and talking about Britain’s Got No Talent? Giving each other manicures? All having poo’s at the same time?
    You know what they’re doing when you can’t get through?
    They’re on the phone with all the other geniuses who had the same brilliant idea as you.
  5. You develop a stronger stomach.
    Common conversations:
    Patient: Hi I’m here to drop off this sample.
    Me: Ok I’ll pass it to the nurse.. Ok I’m going on my lunch now.Patient: My kid has pretty explosive diarrhea and is coughing up green mucous.
    Me: Ok, come in at three thirty.
    Bye guys I’m going on my lunch now.

    Patient: I’m having some really strange discharge.
    Me: Actually.. I think I’ll skip lunch.

  6. The NHS is amazing.
    I got to see a whole lot of medical bills. Granted, I was working in a private surgery and prices for private care are more expensive naturally. But living in a country where you have to pay for your healthcare whether it’s government of private (unless you have amazing insurance) has opened my eyes up to how lucky the UK is to have a national health service. There’d be some days that people would be complaining about the doctors running behind and even when there was a legitimate reason for the delay I’d actually feel myself getting irritated with them, they’re paying for this service, they deserve to be mad!
    Then I thought of myself, sitting in the doctor’s waiting room in England, making a loud sigh as I look at the time  ‘I should have been seen 10 minutes ago’ I’d think to myself, but soon enough my name would get called and then 10 minutes later I’d walk back out, maybe paying the steep charge of £8 or whatever the prescription fee was. When you consider that a trip to the doctors here can set you back around £50 if you go to a cheap doctor, well over £150 if you go to a highly regarded one and God forbid if you get SERIOUSLY ill or want to start a family, you’d spend a small fortune.. the UK is pretty damn lucky.

When all’s said and done I’m still going to get pissy when things don’t go my way at the doctors or any other similar situation, it’s just worthwhile being mindful that there are other factors contributing to your ‘bad’ experience and – like I’ve actually said to customers in the past – why would somebody go out of their way to make give you a bad experience? Why would they not answer the phone and why would they not give you an appointment if one was available?

Signing off, Dr Allen.. uhh.. I mean.. Sarah..


This is meant to be a humorous post about things I encountered working as a receptionist, it has nothing to do with the clinic I worked at and these are my own personal views and not those of my previous colleagues or anybody else. 

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