As an English major and an avid writer I never expected to—or remotely wanted to—work in healthcare. But in May of 2014 after being laid off from a part-time waitressing gig on my 24th birthday (depressing, right?), I decided to get over my aversion to the industry and apply for an open administrative assistant job at a dialysis facility in my town.
I knew it would be a good, resume-building job with a steady paycheck and great hours. Plus, I was tired of having anxiety attacks every time I had to pay my bills and buy groceries in the same week. So I applied, interviewed, peed in a cup, and got the job. I felt extremely lucky when I got the call confirming my employment, but I also felt so nervous and intimidated about becoming a part of this world that was so foreign to me that I couldn’t sleep or eat right for weeks. I’d mainly worked in retail before this, and now I was working with people who’d been diagnosed with end-stage renal disease. In retail, the biggest problem I’d faced was an angry customer yelling at me for not returning their clothes without a receipt. Now I was trying to help people whose kidneys didn’t work.
It took a lot of getting used to, but nearly a year later I’ve realized that although I don’t intend to be in healthcare forever, it’s truly one of the most rewarding, character-building jobs out there. I love how working in healthcare has forced me to become more confident, assertive, and overall just less of a wuss. And I love how I’ve been able to get to know and truly help the patients I work with. But healthcare is really stressful. Actually, I don’t think “stressful” is a powerful enough word for the job. Healthcare is f*cking chaos. And it’s made so much more difficult when people don’t appreciate just how chaotic working in this high-stress, fast-paced, and totally crucial industry is. I haven’t even been in the business for that long, but I can already tell you these 11 things healthcare professionals wish you knew.
1. We are consistently overworked, so bear with us.
There are no slow days in healthcare. Where I work we see over 65 patients and we are responsible for making each of their lives better. Personally, I don’t have the weight of direct patient care on my shoulders, but I still have to ensure that all of our patients have adequate transportation to and from their treatments. I set up their doctor’s appointments and I make sure their records are dealt with properly. Plus, I do a bunch of other stuff that I won’t bore you with. My point is, I am never not busy. So the next time you go to a doctor’s appointment be polite to the receptionist. You may think we just sit on our butts and answer calls all day, but you have no idea how hard we work. We will smile and speak softly because it’s part of the job, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t stressed to our limit every single day. Same goes for the nurses. They may act tough, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be polite to them. They carry the heavy burden of your health on their shoulders all day, every day.
2. Don’t mistake directness for rudeness.
Sometimes healthcare professionals are stereotyped as negative or rude, and I get that. When I first started working in healthcare I thought, “Damn, nurses are mean!” but what you need to understand is nurses and support staff alike have to be direct. We are responsible for helping a lot of people and we only have so much time to do it. If we weren’t hard asses it would simply not be possible for us to help as many people as we do.
3. We have little or no control over wait times.
I can’t count how many times a patient or a family member of a patient has gotten hateful with me over wait times. I know it sucks to show up on time, or even early, for an appointment and then have to sit and wait forever to be seen. But we really have very little control over your wait. Sometimes we have zero control. But I promise you when we say we are trying to get you seen as fast as possible we aren’t lying. There’s only so much we can control, and like I said before, we are responsible for a lot of people’s health. We can’t kick them out of their appointment before it’s over just so you don’t have to wait as long to be seen.
4. We hate caring more about your health than you do.
I’m sure this applies more to healthcare professionals who do direct patient care (i.e., nurses and doctors) but it applies to us support staff too. I hate setting a patient up for a doctor’s appointment that we both know they desperately need just to discover they skipped it. We genuinely care about your wellness so when we work our butts off to try to help you and then you don’t even listen to us, it really pisses us off. Don’t make us be more invested in your quality of life than you are.
5. We know when you’re lying, so just don’t do it.
Blood work doesn’t lie. Don’t tell us you’re taking the Doctor’s orders seriously when you’re clearly not. We don’t lie to you so don’t lie to us. It makes it so much harder to help you when you’re not honest with us, and we’re just going to find out anyway.
6. Your insurance provider does not affect the quality of your care.
We do not care if you have no insurance, commercial insurance, Group Health Plan, Veterans benefits, or if your only provider is Medicaid or Medicare. We aren’t going to give you lesser quality of care based on your insurance or lack of insurance. Don’t accuse us of being money hungry or showing favoritism based on your insurance provider. We don’t see that money, and trust me, every single one of us is underpaid considering the workloads and stress levels we deal with on a daily basis.
7. We hate paperwork, too, but it is absolutely essential.
Some days I do so much paperwork I think I’m on the verge of going snow blind, but we absolutely have to have it. Without the proper paperwork we cannot treat you, bill your insurance, or get any of the past medical information we may need in order to figure out how to help you. We hate it as much as you do, but we will never stop needing you to read and sign things. We can’t do our jobs without it so please don’t make it any more painful than it has to be by complaining about it.
8. Everything we do goes through tons of channels, so please be patient.
Almost nothing we do is taken care of with one phone call. Even if we’re on the ball, there is a chain of command that has to be followed, and we can’t control how quickly the next person in that chain will respond. Healthcare is a team effort so don’t focus all your frustration on one member of that team, and keep in mind that your health issues are important to us too or we wouldn’t be doing this job.
9. If we were super-sensitive, we could not work this job.
We never want to seem insensitive to your plight, whatever it may be, but no one works in healthcare for very long without developing a necessary toughness. Of course, the level of toughness depends on what branch of healthcare you’re in. I can’t imagine dentists or optometrists needing to develop as thick a skin as dialysis staff do. Where I work we simply can’t allow ourselves to be overly sensitive because the people we treat are usually very sick. In less than a year I’ve had to say goodbye to many patients that I’d grown very fond of. People die. It’s sad, but we can’t let ourselves be too sad about it for too long—because it will happen again and again, and we have to be emotionally prepared for that inevitability.
10. Don’t expect support staff to know the answers to nursing questions and vice-versa.
Don’t ask an administrative assistant for information on treating your diabetes or high blood pressure, or really any medical condition. My degree is in English. I have to know some information about medicine, but I am not a nurse or a physician. Now, if you need transportation set up or an appointment made, or medical records requested or a treatment set up out of town, I’d be happy to help you out. But all I can tell you when you ask for information on your medical conditions is this: go see your primary care physician. The same goes for nurses and doctors. Don’t ask them about the stuff I take care of, they will not know what to tell you.
11. We aren’t just in this for the money or job security.
Anyone who works in healthcare does it because they like helping people. They may have initially went in to this industry for the pay and the job security, but they don’t stay in it for that reason. Like I said before, this is overwhelming, high-stress work. No one in healthcare is overpaid considering the massive workload and responsibility we take on every single day. So don’t ever think we’re just in this because it’s practical, steady work. There are a lot of jobs out there that are just as practical and pay just as well and aren’t even half as stressful as the work we do. We care about making a positive difference in your life, and that is why we work in healthcare.