“The job isn’t hard, why can’t they do it right?”

I’ve heard it time and time again. Receptionists get dumped on by veterinarians, managers and sometimes by one of their own. We take our frustrations out on them because of poor scheduling, client messages and even the inability to decipher what a client meant on the phone versus what was really happening. For those of you who haven’t worked reception in a busy animal hospital, you truly don’t understand how trying and difficult the job can be at times – especially if you haven’t trained your staff appropriately.

I remember several major screw-ups when I was a receptionist that could have been prevented if I had a better knowledge of simple medical issues. I almost let a hypoglycemic puppy wait in the lobby until their appointment time because I didn’t recognize what was happening. I scheduled a blocked cat for a regular appointment instead of them rushing in immediately. It happens to the best of us but that doesn’t mean we don’t know what we are doing. Receptionists play a huge role at the clinic and instead of continuing to reprimand them for the same things over and over again, maybe we need to start retraining them and listen to them when mistakes have been made. As a former receptionist and now veterinarian, here are a couple of tips for both receptionists and for training receptionists that can help create a better environment for all.

1. Carry a small notebook with you at all times.

When in doubt always write down information that has been given to you by clients or staff. It’s not easy to remember everything after you put a client on hold and when presenting information to a technician or veterinarian it’s best to have it all on paper so you can give accurate details. 

2. Follow a script in your mind when obtaining details.

When getting information from owners always remember to ask, are they a client, their name and pet name so you can look up the account and any other details you can get out of them. Too many times I’ve seen veterinarians get frustrated when a receptionist asks them a medical question, but then doesn’t know if they are a client or not. We cannot give accurate medical information if we don’t have the full picture. 

3. Set boundaries and rules regarding callbacks.

If someone calls demanding to speak with a doctor about an animal your clinic hasn’t seen in two years, putting a message in for the doctor is going to cause a little bit of an uproar. Many clinics just deal with these calls and pass it on to a technician, but in all honesty, they shouldn’t make it past the front desk. Receptionists, you are the guardians of the telephone. The floodgates open and close because of you. Even having a protocol for difficult clients unwilling to make an appointment without speaking with a doctor will save you a lot of annoyance. 

4. Set boundaries for work-in appointments.

No one likes working through lunch but sometimes we blame the wrong person and take it out on the receptionists. No one wants to disappoint clients but setting up a plan for when you are booked is going to stop a lot of headaches. Be upfront with your receptionists and create a game plan. It may be as simple as, no more appointments unless dire emergencies. It may be, we cannot see anything else right now, please tell them to go to the local ER. Either way allows your receptionists to work for you, not against you. They are not mind readers and need direction when it comes to overbooking. 

5. Make sure your trainer isn’t the one creating poor habits of the rest of your receptionists.

This is a big problem I see. We have someone in charge of training but they don’t follow the rules either. It’s not the fault of the trainee if the trainer isn’t doing their job. Poor habits like overbooking one vet more “because they can keep up” or ignoring clients in the lobby to chat about other clients will continue to get passed on if you do not set up protocols. If your head receptionist won’t follow the rules then it’s time to do some rearranging. 

6. Have simple medical training for all receptionists.

I am not talking about a full education on every medical issue that can pass through the clinic, but basic knowledge can be key. If your clinic has monthly meetings you can take this time to discuss a new subject. You can also create a “cheat sheet” for receptionists to refer to when getting client information. We still want receptionists to come to the doctor with medical questions but giving them some medical knowledge will make them realize how dire a situation might be. 

Please, don’t belittle your staff. They aren’t stupid. They aren’t doing things on purpose. Possibly they weren’t trained properly and you are likely the one at fault. Take some time to re-educate them and you will have better communication for those involved. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.

Nicole Palumbo, DVM


Dr. Nicole Palumbo is a 2012 graduate from the University of Illinois. She is originally from the south side of Chicago but chose to move to Northwest Pennsylvania for her first job out of veterinary school. She works with small animals, exotics and also volunteers her time at the local wildlife rescue, typically performing surgeries and exams on the many raptors that are admitted to the facility. Recently she has taken a job with an emergency/general practice closer to Pittsburgh. With time she hopes to focus more time on wildlife medicine and also obtain specialization in feline medicine.