Appreciating and empowering veterinary receptionists at your practice

The magic of the Maître d’

By Kim Lam

21 February 2023 5 min read


Often we take for granted just how much the Maître d’ or receptionist at your clinic does for us. So we thought it important to acknowledge, appreciate and empower the master of the house!

We also aim to provide inspiration for:

a)     Receptionists themselves

b)    The practice, other staff and managers on how to enable or provide best practice, support tools and technology to aid a receptionist’s role.

Being a receptionist is a huge responsibility and going by job role descriptions, it isn’t just the extreme “busyness” and productivity of the role, it’s the softer skills required with it being a customer-facing role. Being personable, compassionate, patient, calm-headed and dealing well under-pressure; with constant demands, emergencies and coping with emotional clients or angry customers is all part of the parcel too.

As a receptionist at a veterinary practice, you are often responsible for:

  • Meeting and greeting visitors
  • Booking appointments and managing diaries
  • Manning the phone and reconciling any voicemail messages, emergencies and requests to the dairies and requirements for follow up
  • Ensuring client records are up-to-date and accurate
  • Checking clients-in and out/ admitting and discharging animals
  • Dispensing medications and arranging follow-up care
  • Taking payments and issuing invoices, billing and any other paperwork
  • Answering any questions customers may have regarding their care/next steps

Basic medical skills are usually a pre-requisite for the role too. It’s an entire day of multi-tasking, doing a job all the whilst dealing with non-stop phone calls and a potential emergency walking in the door too!

Recognising the unsung heroes: veterinary receptionists’ resilience in the face of emotional challenges

We imagine there’s nothing that prepares you for how you deal with an extremely emotional customer. One who has had their pet since it was 12 weeks old, is now 12 years old and is on its way to pass. Seeing someone with a dying pet, no matter the circumstances, a receptionist is the first person to deal with the phone call or the person walking through the door. And this doesn’t happen just once a day or once in a blue moon, it’s a frequent occurrence at veterinary clinics! So we at Covetrus, just want to show our appreciation to all receptionists out there. For all that you do, a receptionist role requires a resilience and steadfast commitment to care like no other.

The description above makes it sound like a hectic role, but there are genuine reasons receptionists love their role too and here is an excerpt from a day in the life of a receptionist from McLean’s Animal Hospital:

“Last, but certainly not least, is the constant interaction I experience with both animals and their owners.  As a Veterinary Receptionist, I get to greet both people and pets all day, which I love.  This can be a mixture of emotions of course as we see pets for a variety reasons.  Some are very happy times, like a new adoption or puppy!  Others may be more difficult times such as an unwell pet that is not improving.  It’s important that I enjoy both people and animals to be good at my job.  Each owner loves their pet dearly and rely on our guidance and support to help their animal.  I have been through a lot with my own pets over the years, which helps me empathize with all client’s needs.  I have experienced emergency visits, restricted prescription diets, tumour removal surgery, broken leg surgery, and many dentistry’s, just to name a few. My heart goes out to every pet parent dealing with any type of illness or injury.  Please know, I am only a phone call away, and would love to help you as best as I can.  I love this job and feel honoured every day that clients choose Mclean Animal Hospital.”

And that’s what we at Covetrus, appreciate about the care and love that receptionist’s carry in their bones and DNA. They simply want to help others and are some of the most compassionate people we’ve met! Therefore, in empowering receptionist roles, it’s important that the right infrastructure, training and support systems are in place that facilitates the job and makes receptionist’s life easier.

Being at the right place with the right culture

First off, we’d advise any receptionist that they need to be at a practice that is fully supportive with a compassionate and flexible culture that values proper work/life balance. In our podcast episode with Danny the Vet, where he talks about mental health, what it means to be human, making mistakes and the importance of the right team, he asserts:

“There’s normally a system or an organisation setting you up where you can or cannot deliver the care and services that are necessary. Finding the right team and clinic to work for is important. There are clinics that exist to support you in every way possible. If there’s an emergency or lack of resources, the right team will pull together to address it, and you really feel like you’re solving it together and looking after each other. You also feel like you’ve done a really good job. You shouldn’t be in a situation where you’re leaving each day after 8pm and overworked – that is not your fault.”

Danny the Vet, Senior Veterinary Surgeon, Trustee of Vetlife and LibDem candidate

Address the red flags

Making sure you have the right fit and culture is extremely important. Being in a toxic environment is something you want to identify immediately and find better options for yourself. Doing so means being open and transparent, so if you are a receptionist and are feeling unsupported, overwhelmed, burned out or unable to do your job, talk to your manager and leaders at the practice. If it’s not addressed or improved within a month of raising the issues, these are huge red flags. For practice managers, leaders and owners, it’s important your team have regular reviews and appraisals so both parties are meeting their goals and feel supported in their wellbeing and professional development.

Continuous training for veterinary receptionist professionals

Moreover, practices should be providing continuous training for receptionists. They can then feel equipped to deal with the job in the best way possible. It might be doing on a course on customer communications; a first-aid workshop in dealing with emergencies/ mental health; or simply some further training on the current practice management system to make it easier for things such as diary management or checking customers-in/invoicing and billing. In our interview with Kay Ritchie, a senior Veterinary Recruiter, she emphasises the need for training:

“We find that staff find it difficult to communicate to their peers or bosses. It is becoming a vicious circle. There’s lots of options that can facilitate a better working environment. It’s not going to be a one-size-fits all. There are multiple solutions that has worked really well for clinics, for example some practices have been looking at what they can do to retain their staff, such as enrolling them in mental health programs and that an make a huge difference. Technology is also huge, because it can take the pressure off staff, such as telemedicine. It can make life a little easier and strain off the in-house team.”

Kay Ritchie, Experienced ex Veterinary Nurse and Senior Veterinary Recruiter, Noble Futures

Achieving an optimum clinical outcome by equipping receptionists with the right tools and technology

If it’s not been emphasised enough, receptionists are running the show! They are crucial in the effectiveness and efficiencies of the day-to-day running of a veterinary practice, as they impact:

  • Clinical outcomes
  • Client satisfaction
  • Financial resolution
  • Colleague/team satisfaction

Being Maître d’ and at all major touchpoints of a client’s first experience as well as any follow-ups and what happens in-between, means that the success of a practice really does lie in the hands of, not just the veterinary surgeon or nurse, but influenced heavily by the receptionist. To make life easier, it’s also important that a receptionist has the right technology to support their job.

By identifying all the workflows and tasks a receptionist does is a really good start. For example if they may not be responsible for accounting, but they certainly impact it, since they’re the ones that take all the payments from the client and have to invoice or reconcile it in the practice management system (PMS) that is used. If this action doesn’t happen, it causes a cumulative effect of “missed charges”, which can cost the business up to £60,000 in revenue per annum! It’s all a domino effect. Having the right integrations in your PMS that helps receptionists do their job, such as integrated payments, or ensuring they are trained in all the features of your PMS means they can be more effective at doing their job in a timely manner and being customer-first orientated.

The importance of an efficient practice management system for veterinary receptionists

Even with the basics of appointment booking for example, being able to have a seamless and easy workflow to enter customer data to ensure their record is up-to-date, as well as book them in for say the right “type” of appointment. The PMS used should help them do this in a matter of seconds or minutes. And without any delay for the customer. So it’s important you evaluate the use of your PMS, ensuring that it is intuitive, easy-to-use and simple to learn on, so much so, that your receptionist’s working life is enhanced. Technology being used by the receptionist should also facilitate easier and speedier collaboration between colleagues. This means all members of the practice are fully up-to-date and functioning like a synchronised orchestra! Saving time at your practice with the use of the right technology, means more efficiencies are gained and customers are happier.

To see examples of how technology can facilitate efforts, smooth out workflows or speed things up, check out our 1-min Quick Tour on Ascend, our cloud-based PMS, which embodies a veterinary-first design and makes practice life easier. This video gives an example of the check-in and check-out experience. As well as predictive workflows and a modern interface, which helps you see just how easy, yet powerful a PMS can be for your receptionists.

If your PMS is not doing the best it can for your practice and receptionists, or is slow, out-dated and clunky to use, you can also shop around for another potential PMS to use. These days, cloud-based is the way to go and transition to another system can also be hassle free, with minimal disruption. We’re also offering a special Switch to Ascend with a £1500 discount (T&C’s apply.)

A Heartfelt Thank You

Finally, once again, we’d like to thank all the receptionists who work at veterinary clinics. We know this is far from being an easy job! You’re an instrumental part of the veterinary world where you’re saving lives alongside veterinary surgeons and nurses. As the Maitre’d,  you are magic. You deserve all the credit in the world and to be taken care of in the same way you take care of customers and animals alike.

Other helpful resources for receptionists:

Taking care of your mental health – an interview with Danny the Vet

The secret to juggling a million priorities – an interview with Dr Alex Hynes

Managing expectations and setting boundaries at the vet clinic– an interview with Dr Nadine Hamilton

Seeking the right job and the importance of communication and performance reviews – an interview with Kay Ritchie

Dealing with “Veterinary Bashing” – blog post