A good receptionist in veterinary medicine must realize that there is a host of names for his or her position besides “receptionist.” You could be a client service representative, client advocate, front office personnel and many more, including “the girls up front.” Yes, you will hear that also, and none of these position titles mean any disrespect whatsoever, despite any personal connotations you may assume.
So what is a veterinary receptionist? As Wendy S. Myer's writes in her article "How to Support Your Veterinary Receptionist:"
“Receptionists are the face of your veterinary hospital. They play the starring role in every client experience — from scheduling exams to check-in and checkout.”
No one in the veterinary practice has anything but respect for the guys and gals that work the frontlines in veterinary medicine. How do we know? Because not one of them thinks that THEY would be able to do YOUR job — it is the toughest on the team, and everyone knows it. Why? Because you must possess a blend of qualities that are almost not humanly possible.
What are those qualities? Let’s find out.
1) A Veterinary Receptionist Has Unmatched Positive Energy
A good receptionist likely goes home with her face hurting from all the smiling — sometimes forced — that she must do during the typical day in the veterinary practice. Smiling at clients is required, smiling at the animals comes naturally, and smiling at your teammates is deeply appreciated. The receptionist is the barometer of the practice. From the moment a client enters or calls, the mood of that practice rests on the shoulders of the receptionists. They are the first impression and the lasting memory for that client, so they must maintain a positive energy regardless of the oftentimes awful things that can occur at the front desk.
2) Unparalleled Acting Abilities May be Required
The front office is a stage where the curtain never closes. Look at any veterinary practice lobby and you will see the stage is front and center, literally. Everything the receptionist does is seen and potentially heard by clients standing at the desk, sitting in the lobby or entering the front door. A good receptionist instinctively knows this, and can maintain her act for the duration of the day, while improvising through a set of scenarios that would make a Shakespearean thespian tremble.
No, they do not have the benefit of reading the script the night before, rehearsing the blocking so they know where to be standing or sitting at any given moment or memorizing all their lines. In fact, the lines that ARE memorized must roll off the tongue as if it were completely natural. They are often Oscar-worthy performances!
3) A Vet Receptionist Must Have Unrelenting Stamina
At the end of the day, if the receptionist is not exhausted, it is likely she lacked the conviction of her role on stage that day. The front office position requires stamina well beyond the typical administrative job. Even though much of the day may be spent sitting, it is anything but a restful place to be. At any minute you must jump up and greet a client, sprint to the copier/fax machine, reach for the phone, clamber over others to retrieve a file, pop into the lobby to clean a mess or speak with a client — the list goes on and on. Some tasks may be done once or twice, so seldom it is a challenge to remember how to do it. Some tasks must be done hundreds of times a day, so often it may become nauseating; e.g., answering the phone, WITH a smile! All this time, no one must see the toll it is taking physically.
4) Unmatched Emotional Elasticity
Physically this job is tough, but what about the toll of this job mentally? That is oftentimes the more severe of the two when working the front office of a veterinary practice. From the excitement of a new puppy or kitten visit with a new client, to the devastating grief of an attended euthanasia with a client of 20 years, the receptionist must be able to twist their emotions on the spot to fit the needs of the moment. This is all in full view of the client who is being attended to, and the others that are waiting for their pet’s care. Whether in person or on the phone, the receptionist is the first person to demonstrate care and concern to the pet owner. With the phone ringing, the intercom blaring, the door swinging with clients coming and coming and coming, the receptionist must be attentive and emotionally available for that one client in front of them or through the phone line, all the while knowing that the list of duties is growing.
5) Know How to Respect Themselves (Because Others May Forget To)
It is true: The receptionist has one of, if not THE, most difficult position in the practice. We know this because if you ask any other veterinary professional what job they don’t feel they could handle, it would be the front-office position. Even so, this position struggles to receive the respect they deserve for the job that they do every day. In the hustle and bustle of the typical busy day, the receptionists are often “dumped upon” and not appreciated often enough.
It is oftentimes shameful that the front office, in comparison to the medical team, often gets paid less, receives less continuing education, and struggles to feel like they are part of the practice team. This is not the fault of the receptionist, of course, but it means that it requires this person to have a firm belief in their own self-worth and self-respect, particularly on those days when it feels like no one cares.
Sometimes seen as on the ‘fringe’ of the profession due to their reduced medical standing, the profession at large must do a better job to include these special people in the healthcare of pets, letting them know how important a part they play in these animals’ lives. In the meantime, the receptionist needs to have a good reach to be able to pat herself on the back at the end of the day.