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Working as part of a GP support team

Posted on 5/12/2018 by Rob Muddiman

GP surgery reception

General practice is the backbone of the NHS and every GP surgery needs non clinical support staff to manage patients, appointments and correspondence. With over 7,148 practices[1] in England alone, and over 90,000 support staff working in surgeries, there’s certainly plenty of opportunity to build a career in support. So what kind of roles are there and how can you secure your first job?

GP Receptionist Jobs

Receptionists are usually the first people patients meet and are responsible for creating a welcoming and professional environment.

Typical duties for a receptionist include:

  • Answering the phones and redirecting calls through the switchboard
  • Booking patients in for appointments; by phone, in person or online
  • Triaging and ensuring patients see the right healthcare practitioner
  • Entering and looking up patients’ details onto the practice database
  • Answering patients’ questions and directing them through the practice rooms

In addition, some receptionists may also cover other administration duties, such as photocopying, filing, scanning or data entry.

While there are no set entry requirements to become a receptionist, employers usually want to see some relevant work experience on your CV, whether that is in a practice or other admin or customer service role. They may also want to see knowledge of specialist computer systems, such as EMIS or SystmOne.

Receptionist need to have good literacy, numeracy and IT skills, as well as excellent organisation and communication skills. Employers may expect you to have GCSEs or equivalent qualifications.

Receptionists are the face of a practice, so need to be friendly and welcoming. They also often have to deal with distressed, nervous or upset patients, so they need to be patient, understanding and unflappable. Using the phone is a large part of the role, so you need a good telephone manner. Receptionist work as part of a team but have to also be able to use their own initiative when everyone is busy.

When you start a receptionist job, you will be trained in using the phone system, IT and database, but any previous experience will certainly be an advantage. You may also gain qualifications from the Association of Medical Secretaries, Practice Managers, Administrators and Receptionists (AMSPAR) or the British Society of Medical Secretaries and Administrators (BSMSA).

Medical Secretary/ PA Jobs

Medical secretaries/ PA’s support clinicians and management. They take on the administrative and secretarial tasks, leaving clinical staff able to focus more on their patients.

Typical duties for a secretary or PA include:

  • Typing letters and other documents
  • Handling e-referrals (Choose and Book)
  • Managing diaries and arranging meetings
  • Taking and writing up minutes
  • Managing post, emails and phone calls and dealing with enquiries
  • Filing and managing patient records
  • Creating and updating spreadsheets and databases
  • Ordering stationery and office supplies

In larger practices, medical secretaries/ PAs may also be responsible for supervising other admin staff such as clerks or typists.

Although there are no formal qualifications required to become a medical secretary or personal assistant, you will nearly always have to have previous experience of working in the NHS and a good understanding of medical terminology and how GP surgeries operate. Usually, staff progress to secretary or PA from a more junior administrative role.

You’ll need excellent typing and word processing skills (some employers may ask for certification of your speed and accuracy) and good literacy, numeracy and IT skills.

The most important characteristics for a secretary or PA are the ability to work accurately and methodically, pay attention to detail and meet deadlines. You’ll also need to be extremely organised and able to balance a busy workload. Most practice secretaries/ PAs will have some dealings with patients and their families, so you need to be helpful and reassuring.

You will be trained in how to use a practice’s particular IT and phone systems and database. You may also receive training in customer care and dealing with difficult patients. Secretaries and personal assistants may become qualified through organisations such as AMSPAR or BSMSA.

Practice Manager Jobs

Practice managers have overall responsibility for keeping general practices running smoothly and managing the whole administration team. Practice managers wear many hats and the role usually covers HR, finance, IT and strategic planning.

Duties for a practice manager can vary widely, but may include:

  • HR and personnel administration
  • Recruiting, training and managing all staff
  • Handling payroll, budgets and accounts for the practice
  • Managing and reporting on databases, appointments and IT systems
  • Controlling stocks of equipment, stationery and drugs
  • Arranging the building's cleaning, maintenance and security
  • Liaising with clinical commissioning groups, other GP practices, patient groups and local authority social services departments

People come to practice management from a variety of different backgrounds and you don’t necessarily need experience of working in an NHS general practice, although it’s usually a big advantage. You will however need some previous management experience and the ability to handle the mix of responsibilities detailed above.

You’ll need typical management skills, such as leadership, motivation, negotiation and organisation, as well as the ability to handle HR, finance and IT. You’ll need excellent communication skills and be able to work well with partners, staff and patients. You will also need the ability to think strategically and handle a constantly-evolving environment.

Practice managers are usually required to hold or be working towards a relevant qualification, such as the Certificate/Diploma in Primary Care and Health Management (DPCHM) or the Vocational Training Scheme for General Practice Managers (VTSGPM).

So how do you get your first role?

As you’ll have seen, most practice administration roles require you to have some previous experience of working in a GP surgery. But how do you get that experience?

Like charities, many GP practices look for volunteers to help them out with more junior duties. Volunteering is an ideal way to gain skills and experience, while demonstrating your commitment to the role and could even lead to a paid job.

Volunteer vacancies don’t tend to be advertised, so you’ll need to ask directly at a practice. You should volunteer for as long a period as you can, both to gain a good chunk of experience and also to make it more likely that they will trust you with more complex tasks, such as data entry. Show enthusiasm and a willingness to learn and take on as many duties as you can – it will all look good on your CV. The most important thing to gain is some exposure to phone systems and clinical systems such as EMIS Web or SystmOne.

Some areas offer apprenticeships, which are even better as you’ll get paid while you’re learning. You can look for apprenticeships on the Gov.uk website or NHS Jobs. It’s very important to show that you are reliable and arrive every day on time. If you do well, you may be offered a permanent job.

If you can’t find work in a GP surgery, any customer service experience is useful, whether it’s working in a shop or volunteering in a care home.

Once you’ve got some experience under your belt, temping is a great way to fill out your work history while giving you a better idea of the options available.

TPP can help

TPP’s Health & Social Care team covers vacancies in General Practice, NHS Hospitals and Private Healthcare organisations for experienced non-clinical professionals including medical receptionists, medical secretaries, practice managers, PAs on a temporary, interim, contract and permanent basis.

Get in touch on 020 7198 6080 or healthsocialcare@tpp.co.uk.


[1] NHS Digital Primary Care Workforce report