GP receptionists

BMRJ9J Receptionist in a doctor's office greets a patient.

Are you unhelpful and patronising?

Do you revel in the discomfort of others?
Do you harbour a barely disguised assertion that you are better than the rest of humanity (who you mentally refer to as “scum”)?
Would you like to describe yourself as a ‘healthcare professional’ despite barely scraping a D in biology at school?

If the answer to these questions is a resounding “yes”, then you might be in the wrong job! (Unless you’re already a GP’s receptionist, in which case… well, it figures)

As a bloody man, it’s hard enough to admit defeat regarding your valiant battle with an ailment or illness without then having to call your local primary care establishment to engage with one of Satan’s minions on Earth.

Normally I’m quite happy to verbally spar with an irritant over the phone – telemarketers, cold callers, my mother – but I’m weak and vulnerable; I don’t have the strength to defend myself against the barrage of condescension that’s about to come through the receiver and box me about the ears.

All I’m doing is trying to make an appointment to see my local doctor. A perfectly valid course of action, you would think, when seeking treatment or advice for a medical complaint. But if the tone and inflection coming from the sour battle-axe who’s just picked up the phone is any indication, I’m a very foolish person worthy of utter contempt. Throughout the course of our conversation she sighs so many times I fear she may be deflating.

Firstly, I’ve had the audacity to call on a very busy day and at a very busy time. The receptionist doesn’t so much tell me this as chastise me for it, as if I’ve very stupidly mistimed my illness. But this irritation quickly morphs into incredulity when I suggest I might want to see my preferred choice of doctor. As a kind, competent, and understanding physician, I understand he may be popular, but I’m not sure my request for 15 minutes with him warrants a supressed fit of hysterics.

“Oh no, he’s booked up all day,” she snorts when finally regaining composure.

“Er, OK. How about tomorrow?”

“No, no, no, no, no.”

“Well, could you tell me when he is free, please?”

A brief pause containing a few keyboard taps and more sighing.

“Two and a half weeks,” she finally offers.

Now in my experience an illness will either resolve itself within 2 and a half weeks, or kill you. Either way, an appointment with a doctor is somewhat moot, and so I accept the offer of seeing the unknown locum with the unpronounceable name. And then comes the kicker:

“Can I ask what the problem is?”

No you fucking can’t! It’s going to take every ounce of my being to have a conversation about the weeping sore at the end of my penis to the doctor; I’m not going to share such intimate detail with you! And why are you asking anyway? Will you bump me up to an earlier appointment if my symptoms sound alarming enough to your untrained ears?! I once vaguely described some symptoms over the phone only to have some medical advice thrown back at me together with the suggestion that I probably didn’t need to see a doctor at all! From a phone operator cum administrative assistant!!

The worst possible situation in which to find yourself is when after having had an appointment, the friendly, caring, understanding doctor suggests you do something that goes against the receptionist’s protocol. Maybe they’ve suggested you make another appointment with them at a particular time or, heaven forbid, call them tomorrow for an update.

“I beg your pardon??!”

“Er, Doctor Marsh said I should call to discuss my illness.”

“She told you that?!”

“Well, yes.”

“I don’t think she would have. Do you want to make an appointment for next week?”

“No, she said to call today, at this time, to chat with her.”

“She probably meant that you should make another appointment.”

“No, she specifically said to call her…”

“No no no no no. She’s got appointments all day. I’ve got nothing in her diary.”

“Right, well could you put me through to her and I’ll…”

“No I can’t put you through! I can’t put every person that calls through to a doctor!”

“OK, sure, but she asked me quite clearly to call at this time on this day. Could you please check with her? Please?”

A long, long sigh, a brief moment on hold, and then a curt and defiant; “Putting you through.”

No apology, no conciliatory explanation, just probably an asterisk next to my name on the computer so she knows to be doubly vile to me the next time I cross her path.

I’ve no idea what has happened in their lives to warrant an almost sociopathic approach to their rather basic duties, but you’d think the doctors at the practice would weed out the self-satisfied snobs during the interview process. They are, after all, the conduit through which the sick and frail attempt to contact their local healers. Having a poisonous bitch man their phones seems unduly cruel.




  1. John

    An excellent post that made me smile on almost every line. On the whole we have a good receptionist service (now) – there was the odd occasion where one receptionist did try and triage my wife over the phone (herself a trained medical professional but with a serious medical condition) by suggesting that my wife did see quite a lot of her GP and perhaps the local Pharmacist could help instead? My wife wrote a letter of complaint the the Head of the GP Practice and that was the end of that – the receptionist was and remains quite polite to this day.

    You have of course missed out the sub class of receptionist – the dentist’s receptionist. We had a particularly vile example at our once NHS Practice, an ex (failed?) nurse who was rude, snide, condescending, flippant, obnoxious, etc and when this constant barrage of borderline abuse finally reached epic proportions and you dared to raise your voice even the slightest to cut through her monologue, she’d tap the “Zero Tolerance” (‘Abuse of NHS staff’) sign and walk off to do something else.

    Inevitably this NHS Practice announced it was going private and we were offered the opportunity to join their “Club” for an eye-watering monthly fee. On our final NHS visit, the receptionist pounced on us, noting we had failed to join their club. My wife looked her squarely in the eye and announced loudly “You’re a rude and condescending cow and I’m not paying your fucking wages by joining your club.” The receptionist went white her hand jabbing at the “Zero Tolerance” sign, my wife leaned forward, smiled, “But you’re not NHS staff any more, so you can shove that sign up your arse.”

    I may have cheered at this point.


    PS I notice one of your tags is the word ‘hunour’ – I am unfamiliar with this term…

  2. puffinspace

    Ha ha to both of your posts, I couldn’t agree more. John your wife deserves a fucking medal, what a beautiful moment of victory.

  3. Love this post so much, these people drive me nuts and I too enjoy being assholes back to people when they are rude on the phone to me. If they are nice then I will chit chat and shoot the shit, but I am the kind of person that will write a letter to your boss if your rude and obnoxious.

  4. And to John, your wife is my new hero, If I was clever enough to come up with that I would have done the exact same thing!

  5. peter

    I’m a practice manager and found this article when looking for advice on how to turn my team around. It did make me laugh – but I do want to say the only reason we ask the reason for the visit is generally because the Doctors insist on knowing why people are coming… it’s just as awkward for us, and personally I hate asking, but knowing why you need an appointment helps the doctors manage their time and makes it easier to fit in everyone that needs to be seen.

  6. receptionist123

    you’re so rude. Us receptionists started off nice, kind and helpful. It was rude people like you, all day in and out that make us feel like this.
    No your cough since last night is not an emergency eventhough your hysterical hypochondriac mind thinks so. No that genital wart you ‘inexplicably’ picked up is not an emergency, eventhough you fear your wife will find out.
    Yes, the pleasant lady who rang before you, dying of cancer, is an emergency. Who also said that she would be happy with a routine appointment.

    It’s called putting things in perspective and when you see the spectrum of illness we do, it puts that wart into perspective.

  7. Wino

    The problem, Receptionist123, is exactly what you just said. Except that it’s that (your) attitude itself that causes a lot of it. Frankly, the underlying point you make may be correct (priorities and all) but you made it with such arrogance that you’ve clearly missed the point of the post in the first place.

  8. Marianne

    So,,, I’m a medical receptionists… I started off nice, smiling at everyone, changed rather quickly. People try to bully the receptionists to get to the doctor. We are just messengers. If the doctor cancels appointments, or misplaces a referral/doesn’t put it in the chart or give to us to put into the chart, or sends it to the wrong specialist it’s somehow our fault. If a doctor is appointment only and his next available isn’t right when the person calls but instead 3-4 weeks from now it’s our fault. If you spend most of my time umm and uhing decided on an appointment time or complaining your not getting the time you want when i have 5 lines going and people standing in front of me giving me dirty looks waiting for me to get of the phone, that’s annoying… Also it’s annoying when you can clearly see me finishing something up before moving on to you yes you and you just come up to me and state what you want instead of waiting until i’m done and ready to help, like you assume whatever i’m doing is so unimportant that you must come first, it’s rude and disrespectful.

    If youre on your last pill and you decide to call the day before the prescription runs out instead of in advance we are at fault. If a doctors running behind or their is a long wait for the walkin it’s our fault. If we can’t estimate an accurate wait time because our brains can’t calculate a perfect algorithm adding variables such as the doctor’s mood, pace, patients taking longer than expected or at times needed, patients with serious issues that need more time… (we are not psychic, we allot 10 min per patient, if a bunch of people take 20 minutes or the doctor’s moving slow we can’t do much as we are trained to do it this way, sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. Patient’s can be manipulative in attempting to get what they want quickly, today I had someone show up without an appointment say the doctor had emailed him to come in, the doctor did not email him, who gets in trouble here? The lying patient? NO. People yell, they complain, they swear, they treat us like a dumping ground for their negative emotions and are all smiles and handshakes as soon as the doctor comes around. (These days people are straight up disrespecting their doctors too though)

    The doctors usually ask us to set BOUNDARIES with patients on THEIR BEHALF, ie) no direct phone calls. I don’t like saying no and my life would be easier if I could just tell people yes. IT DOES NOT WORK LIKE THAT. People are entitled and ungrateful for the most part. The sweet ones make it worth while, but the sweet ones are usually the sickest.

    It’s easy to become jaded working with the general public. You all need to understand there is a reason why healthcare professionals act a certain way at times. It’s a defense mechanism. You can’t be emotional or get yelled at constantly and think CLEARLY that’s why a wall gets built and we become hardened. Look deeper for once and stop complaining, Medical professionals are here to help it’s never enough for people.

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