As a receptionist in a busy doctor’s surgery, you’ve probably worked out how to handle the stress of such an emotionally demanding job. Not only are you wonderful people sitting on the frontline for all sorts of daily abuse from irritated, uncomfortable and downright infectious patients, you’re subjected to a whole town’s worth of sniffles and bugs on a daily basis. On the plus side, however, your antibodies are second-to-none and you’ve developed the negotiation skills of a UN peacekeeper when it comes to appointment setting, neurotic patients and queuing systems. But the biggest demand of all? Keeping your own feelings in check.
The role of a receptionist in a doctor’s surgery is subject to the most intense highs and lows – you’ll see tears of pain and howls of laughter, intense pain and sheer relief – all in the space of just an hour or two. Developing a calm, impassive exterior has been found to be a key coping mechanism in this line of work, no matter how frantically your feet are paddling to keep yourself afloat underneath the desk.
Dealing with up to seventy patients a day – each with unique needs and expectations – can lead to what psychologists call “emotional burnout”. That impassive exterior receptionists so often come under fire for is actually a key coping mechanism. In light of this, recent research conducted at Durham University has raised the issue that this role demands a “high degree of emotional awareness and maturity”.
How many people would know how to deal safely and appropriately with a distressed patient calling the switchboard to claim that they’re “covered in germs” and that they plan to scald themselves with boiling water? Or who else would know exactly how to cope with a six-deep queue that includes tearful new mothers and howling babies, a patient doubled over with suspected appendicitis and a bereaved husband coming to register the death of his wife? Yep, the doctor’s surgery is an emotionally-charged workplace like no other, and its receptionists manage the ever-changing demands of this workplace by detaching themselves personally from the professional tasks at hand.
So our message to all GP surgery receptionists is to “Keep Calm and Carry On” – you’re doing a great job.