Rude Front-Desk Workers Can Set a Bad Tone for an Oncology Visit


When visiting the cancer center (or any other health care center), the people who greet me at the front desk can have a major impact on the whole experience.

The Gatekeeper’s Respect 

Stark white walls and sterile halls.

Pungent antiseptic smells and loud elevator bells.

The all-too-familiar lobby. You’d think this was my hobby.

Waiting-room feet from a cold, hard seat.

A single word “NEXT”
resounds from the reception desk.

Part of this medical assembly line. The next name up is mine.

Greet me by name. I’ll do the same.

Your presence sets the tone.
A warm welcome or utterly alone.

You are the first one we see.
A pleasant person you should be.

From the gatekeepers to the floor sweepers.

Let’s all be kind, it eases my mind.

There is nothing that grates on me more or shuts me down faster than a front-office staff with marginal people skills. Whether it be a hospital, a medical office or really any other type of office, there is usually a receptionist or front-office staff. These are the first people we contact in what is most often the last place we want to be, and their demeanor sets the tone for the remainder of our visit.

Their interaction with the public, either in person or by telephone, is key to a patient knowing they are in a place that is competent and compassionate. Being placed on hold for 20 minutes is not acceptable. To walk in and be greeted gruffly with “Can I help you?” or “Do you have an appointment?” is not a welcoming greeting and to me translates to “What are you doing here?” It’s almost as if my presence is an imposition and I am interrupting something. I do understand these receptionists and front-office staff see a large volume of people day in and day out. I also don’t expect everyone to remember me and greet me by name. Yet I go to the same grocery store weekly and the cashiers remember me. A simple “good morning” or “hello” in acknowledgment would suffice. None of us want to be in an oncology office or hospital. In a front-office setting, kindness and compassion do matter.

Over the last eight years, I have encountered numerous front-office people who have been exceptional at what they do, making myself and other patients feel welcome and comfortable. These are the ones who stand out and made what could have been a stressful or bad experience a better experience. And then there have been the front-office people who should really be back-office people. The ones who, after seeing you week after week, month after month, continue to ask you who you are and why you are there. The ones who ask you if you have an appointment when it should be obvious that you have an appointment. Would I hang out in an oncologist’s office if I did not need to be there? These are the front-office staff who should not be interacting with the public, let alone, the sometimes emotionally fragile patients with cancer.

There are days when you are struggling with your diagnosis and all you want is to be seen as a person and not another number. Compassion and respect, in my opinion, should extend beyond the doctors, nurses and assistants.

At a hospital I used to go to for labs, there was a grouchy woman who worked at the reception desk. In my mind I nicknamed her “the Gatekeeper.” I would see her almost every week and each encounter she would treat me as if she had never seen me before. Her tone was gruff and commanding, rude even. It filled me with dread every time I had to interact with her. I got to the point of trying to avoid her if possible, going to great lengths to adjust my schedule accordingly.

Each one of us has our own day-to-day struggles. I try to leave my bad attitude at home before going to my appointments. There are days when I don’t always succeed. Being a cancer patient was never what I aspired to be, but here I am. Kindness and being treated with respect and dignity does matter and it goes both ways. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to show you care. A friendly smile may be all it takes. In the words of the great Aretha Franklin “All I'm asking is for a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”

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