real life

GP receptionists are Australia's invisible front line workers.

In the dark lockdown months of 2020, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who choked up at scenes of city-wide applause for the doctors and nurses working around the clock to combat an illness they had to learn about on their feet.

It was a well-deserved, touching gesture – a reminder of how reliant we all are on each other’s individual skills, talents and vocations.

But as praise mounted for medical teams everywhere, I couldn’t help but think of my mum.

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Lockdown had not meant pyjama days and too many snacks for her; she was at work all day, every day, behind the reception desk of her local GP clinic.

With nothing but a garden-variety disposable mask between her and the next possible COVID case to unknowingly walk in the door, Mum’s workload went through the roof as she suddenly became the head of a triage operation of huge importance.

The usually straightforward procedure of taking phone bookings became a full-scale operation to ascertain whether people were a serious threat to the doctors, staff and patients of the clinic – with frightened (often elderly) patients reluctant to take COVID tests in strange locations, instead wanting to come see their family GP, because it was “just a sniffle”.

I have always known my mum did much more than simply answer phones, but the level of compassion, the counselling skills and dedication required to serve a GP clinic in the thick of COVID has been an ask the like of which the industry has never seen.

Mum was (and is) proud to serve her community as a frontline worker, but I didn’t realise the toll it was taking on her until she told me how excited she was to see an article published last week, commending medical receptionists on their work.

While I, as a high school teacher, got to read regular news articles highlighting our adaptability and resilience in the face of COVID, the work of medical receptionists has been invisible in the media until very recently.

Now, in Sydney’s second lockdown, as we attempt to ride out the surge of cases, there are still more challenges heaped on the plates of GP receptionists everywhere.

Namely: the logistical and scheduling challenges of administering vaccines in the wake of staggeringly poor government communication to the public.

Millions of Australians were urged to speak to their GP clinic in the past few weeks, regarding their eligibility for the Astra-Zeneca vaccine. Guess who they spoke to on the phone?

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Not a GP.

It’s the receptionists who bear the brunt of this huge administrative load, grasping the key facts from the daily press conferences like everyone else and attempting to reassure and accurately inform patients as best they can.

There is still no uniform approach, with some GPs choosing not to administer Astra-Zeneca to anyone under 60. 

Their receptionists – my mum included – must explain to (sometimes irate, terrified or rude) patients what the clinic can offer them and why.

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It’s often a difficult conversation.

This morning, I woke to a miles-long text from my mum, fretting about the government’s latest 180 on vaccine advice.

After spending all of last week rearranging vaccine appointments to ensure a 12-week gap between Astra-Zeneca shots (after the media reported this increased immunity), Dr. Chant’s Saturday morning announcement that a 6-week gap was now being recommended means an avalanche of administration for my mother tomorrow.

Every chop, change, start and stop with the vaccine rollout has meant hours of scheduling, re-scheduling, paperwork and phone calls for all GP clinics. 

No doubt, their staff are working overtime to slot you in, with what little supplies of vaccine they have.

So, as you pick up the phone to reschedule your Astra-Zeneca shot (or for any other appointment) this week, please remember to be patient. Please remember to be kind.

It could be someone’s mum on the other end of the line.

Feature Image: Getty.

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