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Five key qualifications to look for when recruiting a GP practice receptionist

Ruth Long of First Practice Management explains the five key qualifications that often come up on a good receptionist’s CV

On first glance it might seem that a GP practice’s receptionist is no different to a receptionist working in the hospitality or corporate industry environment. However while there are no specific ‘practice receptionist’ courses, there are some key skills and qualifications that you could look for in any applicant.

Despite detailing the list, it is important to take these as a starting point or guidance when recruiting for this particular role. You might often find one or more of these requirements present within shortlisted candidates, but a lack of others. In some instances it might be more suitable to the practice if the candidate demonstrates a willingness to develop in the role and essentially ticks other proverbial boxes, whilst fitting in with the overall organisational culture of the practice. 

1 ‘People’ skills

As the practice receptionists are on the frontline, the successful candidate will need to have strong people skills that equip them to deal with difficult situations, namely dealing with demanding patients who require medical attention and managing the expectations of the GPs, practice managers and clinical staff at the same time.

It is also desirable for practice receptionists to have strong communication skills as they not only liaise with members of the public, but other staff. Immense patience as a character trait will also be immensely valuable in this role.

A course such as the ABE (Association of Business Executives)  Level 3 Award in the Principles of People Skills in Business (QCF) will help learners understand why people skills are vital to an organisation’s success and will help understanding communicating effectively with people.

2 Good telephone manner

With a phone call often acting as the first means of contact for many patients, telephone skills will prepare a practice receptionist to efficiently handle enquiries and appointment requests in a timely manner. Customer service experience, time-management skills and the ability to multitask between incoming calls, face-to-face patient enquiries and daily administrative tasks is a must. There are a number of training bodies that offer customer service and telephone skills workshops up to advanced level. There is also a Level 2 NVQ in Front Office offered by colleges as an in-house course.

3 Typing and IT experience

Additional skills desirable for applicants of a receptionist’s role include

-typing qualifications and/or training

-familiarity with computers extending to the use of Word and Excel

- internet browsing skills that would be useful when using any medical computer system.

Courses that offer qualifications to OCR Text Production Level 1 or 2 are suitable for beginners or people wishing to advance their touch typing skills. An OCR Audio Transcription Level 2 qualification is suitable for typists or word processor operatives who wish to learn audio typing to OCR (RSA) Level 2.

Other options include The Chartered Institute for IT’s (formerly the British Computer Society) e-type course, a recognised touch-typing qualification and the only one that appears on the Qualifications and Curriculum Framework.

4 Good admin management

The British Society of Medical Secretaries and Administrators (BSMSA) run a number of courses covering health administration and medical terminology. Their City and Guilds Level 2 Certificate in Medical Administration is specifically designed for people working (or wanting to work) as administration assistants, ward clerks, receptionists, or records clerks.

The Association of Medical Secretaries, Practice Managers, Administrators and Receptionists (AMSPAR) also run courses in medical terminology and medical administration, such as their Level 2 Certificate/Diploma in Medical Administration.

Basic educational qualifications such as GCSEs etc would be useful for anyone wanting to undertake this.

5 Awareness of confidentiality and data protection issues

This is an extremely important area of proficiency for a receptionist to have but if the candidate doesn’t have direct experience of working in an environment that exercises confidentiality as standard, an awareness of the importance of this area with a willingness to learn will suffice. Similar to telephone skills, there are a number of training organisations that offer courses in understanding the important of data protection.

Ruth Long is the general manager at First Practice Management

Readers' comments (10)

  • Marvellous that in the first skill there is a statement that patients are demanding and that receptionists need to be equipped to deal with difficult situations.

    Perhaps if the key skill receptionists were taught was to listen to both patients and practice staff then the lives of all might be made much easier.

    Just look at the feedback written on NHS Choices website, people are in the main very happy with their GPs which is great. People in the main are very unhappy with receptionists which is simply not good enough.

    I wonder how many private businesses would remain if they employed people who currently work in GP surgeries as receptionists. I suggest not too many.

    Listening skills please, first and foremost. It's interesting tha tthe author of the article failed to mention them at all. Perhaps she nees them too.

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  • i have had just wonderful staff for 30 years. i said all you need is to be able to do is to be able to read, write and have common sense and i will teach you the rest. i never regretted my choice and hardly ever any complaint barring couple of them in 30 years..

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  • Making contact with the GP Practice can be a daunting task for a patient or a carer. It can become an obstacle course. The hurdles are which doctor, degree of illness, timing, when,where, confidentiality issues.etc. Some understanding of the needs of Carers would remove the stress and anxiety from both patients & carers and would help build the trust between practice staff and patients. For any private business contracted to the NHS the first point of call 'the receptionist' is an indicator of the kind of management of that practice. We do not have to put up with obstructive receptions we can now take our business elsewhere.

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  • An extremely difficult job which I often think is staffed by those under qualified to do the job and is often underpaid for whats required.

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  • Practice reception staff do a very difficult job, often in upsetting circumstances and for modest pay. They do this because they are dedicated to being part of a team caring for patients.

    Let us try to appreciate the vast majority of our health care teams who are hardworking and caring. They deserve to be both valued and respected.

    Any business which had to cope with ever increasing workloads, open-ended demand and reducing funding, would be unlikely to continue without the dedication of the team within it.

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  • As someone with a front office role in military primary care, I am well aware of the importance of the first impression that a practice gives to patients. As a user of local GP practices I sometimes see the other side of that equation.

    My husband has great difficulty getting an appointment to see his GP - he actually has to fib about his asthma to get seen! I find it appalling that he has to do that but I do understand that it is not the receptionists fault.

    They are the "face" of their practice. How that practice has decided to run their appointment system and triage patients is not down to them. Those are decisions for the Practice Manager or the Partners.

    I do agree that many receptionists would benefit from relevant training. Having recently completed the AMSPAR Diploma in Primary Care and Health Management myself, I am aware of how much better equipped I am to do my job.

    The age of the "Dragon" behind the desk is in the past and it is unfortunate that patients do not always realise that. Access to primary care is a huge issue for many GP practices. Unfortunately there are no easy answers!

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  • I have yet to attend a GP practice where I am overwhelmed by smiles and attentiveness - now you find they can barley look you in the face because of the systems/huge screens that have taken over the 'personal touch' aspects of the reception persona. I do find it hard to understand why practices continue to employ some of what appears to be the most unaccomodating and in some case, 'inhuman' examples of front line staff.

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  • As a practice nurse, I have found most receptionists extremely pleasant but they do have a very difficult job. I find some patients complain about the receptionists not having known something and I find I spend a little time explaining it is not the receptionist job to know such clinical answers.

    I also suspect members of the public are much more comfortable complaining about someone they perceive as lower in the hierachy. Sometimes I have tracked a patient's nastiness from extreme at the receptionists, lesser so to the nurse, then pleasant to the GP.

    I do think being a receptionist is also where one cannot see the wood for the trees as many asthma patients for example, will fib to feign an "emergency" when they have not actually responded to several invits for review to maintain an inhaler supply.

    I am concerned that our receptionist often "triage" who can have an appointment often at the directive of grumpy GPs telling them off if they book too many. Then of course we all know that in first response training the quietest placid patients may actually be the ones at greatest risk.

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  • I started nearly 10 years ago as a receptionist in a GP surgery. Oh my god I have never encountered so many rude people in my life. Yes I understand people are in pain and worried. But that person in front of you is abiding by the rules set by the partners of your surgery. Yes I have been there with the " dragon receptionist" but people need to wake up and understand that it is their doctors who set the riles...not the front line staff!!

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  • Seriously - I think a lot of you who believe that receptionists are dragons are blinkered by your own predujices. Do you realise how little receptionists are paid? Guess...? It's not much more than the minimum wage and boy oh boy are they asked to put up with all sorts of demands from a population of people from all walks of life. They can't be all bad....I have just watched our kitchen cupboard fill up with tins of biscuits, boxes of sweets, packets of mince pies from patients of all ages who want to say thank you to reception for all the help, advice, smiles and support that they offer throughout the year. Stop complaining and start working with the receptionists to help you get what you want/need.

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