Leading Ladies - What I Learnt from the Front-Line of Medicine


"Someone's locked themselves in with the doctor"


"They have a knife. Evacuate everyone. Call the police."


I froze. I didn't know what to do even though I was being clearly instructed to do it.

I looked at my colleague beside me, another medical receptionist working in the industry for 30 years longer than I and she simply stared back with a look of panic.

Years later, I would hear my flatmate calling from the hallway of our flat. I was curled up in bed, stuck in my usual YouTube vortex and only vaguely aware that my flatmate was cooking in the kitchen.

I peek my head out the door to see her curled up in the fetal position, clinging to her hand which was wrapped in a tea towel. I switched into what I started referring to my 'Medical Receptionist' mode.

'Okay, can you tell me what happened? Is it your hand?'

'I was cutting an avocado...'

'Alright, let's get you up and take a look at the damage. I can see you've done a number on your hand so I'm going to keep the towel on here.'

She faints.

'Hi there, can you hear me? You've just had a little fall. Can you do some nice big controlled breaths for me? I'll get an ambulance here pronto.'

I sounded like a first aid robot and was most definitely on auto-pilot but, despite the blood pooling at my knees and a barely conscious flatmate, I was in control.

Five years of emergency medicine had provided me with the necessary skills and experience to deal with emergencies in a calm and measured way. But clearly this wasn't something that I learnt overnight and it took many a stressful and threatening situation for me to earn these skills.

For every cardiac arrest whisked through the door, for every cyclist with road burn and mangled limbs, for all the drug seekers and desperate patients threatening doctors when they think it's their only option to get help - I was learning important skills I could carry through into later life.

While my job now doesn't require me to deal with situations that are quite like the ones I experienced in the medical environment it often requires a degree to patience and understanding. The process for dealing with emergencies is just like the process for dealing with any situation that confounds you:

  1. Assess
  2. Interpret
  3. Take Action

Much like with my flatmate's avocado incident, you should Assess the situation; she's lying the floor in need of help. Interpret the situation; she's clutching her hand so she's injured herself there. Then Take Action; let's get her into a safe position where she can breath and I can put pressure on the wound.

Rinse and repeat.

When I walk into an office and see the recruitment system isn't working. Assess; this is their current process and here are the issues arising from it. Interpret; the process is failing at this step and there are weaknesses in this area. Take Action; let's strength this area and revise the process to avoid failure.

This can work for a number of things and you don't have to spend years on the front-line to implement it into your day-to-day. Keep the steps in mind and practice using it until its second nature to you. You may find that one day when you're in an emergency situation you kick into auto-pilot and your instincts take over.