April 24, 2007, 2:32 pm

Administrative Professionals Week: A Look At ER Secretaries


Well, I have to be honest…

I don’t really know what secretaries are really thinking!

Especially emergency department secretaries.

But I can tell you that a great ED secretary can make a department!

Call them what you will: unit clerks, secretaries or administrative assistants.

They all have one thing in common.

An uncanny ability to multitask.

In honor of Administrative Professionals Week, I’d like to pay homage to the intrepid individuals who man the front lines of the emergency department.


Have you ever really watched an ED secretary at work?

At any given time, they are simultaneously:

  • Making a phone call to two different physician exchanges.
  • Greeting patients as they come in the door with a smile and directing them to triage.
  • Answering the two pages they placed ten minutes before.
  • Putting orders in the computer.
  • Paging the ER doc to the phone.
  • Deflecting the anger of patients who have had to wait 3.87 minutes before being roomed.
  • Repeating on the phone, for the 267th time in an hour, that the department does not have advice nurses but would be happy to care for them should they decide to come in.
  • Putting in patient charges.
  • Catching the charts that the nurses forgot to sign.
  • Keeping track of the five piles of unfinished charts that are spread around the nursing station.
  • Pulling up lab results for the consultants who arrive in the department.
  • Paging the charge nurse to take the two sick calls that just came in.
  • Responding to the various requests of staff nurses for labs or finding a rarely-used form.
  • Listening to the nurses ventilate about the frustrations of their job. Okay, they listen to a ton of griping!

And they do it all with a smile.

They never slow down because if they slow down, so does the department.

They are privy to every patient secret in the department and are the epitome of HIPAA compliance.

Their bladder capacity rivals that of an RN.

They hear it all, they see it all…

They do it all.

Should you ever doubt the value of your emergency department administrative assistant, just imagine working a shift without them.

And then remember to say “thank you” to them.


But especially this week.


  • S. R.

    April 24, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    You forgot about filing.

  • Kim

    April 24, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    Ah…yes! In our department, the volunteers do the filing. That’s probably why I didn’t think of it.
    Good excuse, eh? : D

  • MonkeyGirl

    April 24, 2007 at 5:00 pm

    Fantastic post. We just lost one of our best secretaries to the *spit* day shift. They say you don’t appreciate something until it’s gone; we knew she was a Goddess, we just didn’t realize how powerful a Goddess she was!

  • Kristine

    April 24, 2007 at 6:03 pm

    I have to thank you for this. I did a 6 month tour in the ICU at the big hospital in my area, and it was the worst job I’ve ever had. I was yelled at by RNs, MDs, NPs, the Nurse Manager, and most of the time, I was right.

    The day I quit was when an RN called me stupid because SHE wasn’t up on the policy change as to who brought us clean something-or-others, and my nurse manager wouldn’t back me up. I went back to retail. Retail involves less yelling, and if people yell at me, well, as one of the managers in the store, I get to inform them that they can now leave the store. We tried to do that to a screaming family member, called security, and the family member went to Patient/Family advocacy, LIED about what the RN had said, and guess what — our nurse manager backed him.

    It was the worst job I’ve ever had. I wish I worked somewhere where someone would have said thanks; I take this thanks from you, for those six months, even though I’ve never met you before. 🙂

    P.S. Alison at http://www.spindyeknit.com pointed me here.

  • TC

    April 24, 2007 at 10:43 pm

    ER secretaries ROCK! Let’s not forget, they do all that AND they make, what, a third of what RN’s make?

    Strange fact:every ER sect’y I’ve ever met has been in love with my husband(also an RN)He’s not stupid, he’s extra nice to them because he knows they’re the most important person in the ER-the eye of the storm. (I’m extra nice too, but they don’t love me like that 🙁

  • Shells

    April 25, 2007 at 11:06 am

    Thank you,

    I am one of these. I do this job by choice, not because I have to. I love my job, I love to multi task, and I love to know that I am an intrinsic part of running our department. Sometimes people forget that, so to have someone state that it is appreciated means more than you know to all of us.

  • CSE

    April 25, 2007 at 11:11 am

    Big thanks for reminding me it was Admin Professional Day! Had forgotten all about it. Thanks to you, I had time to buy a card and present for our admins today!

  • ERnursey

    April 25, 2007 at 8:45 pm

    Oh lord, we had a call in one day so I did the desk. By 9am I was ready to throw all of the phones out into the parking lot. It was impossible to put in orders with all the endless interruptions and by the end of the day the staff had put a post-it on my chair saying “approach with caution.” Our clerks are WONDERFUL and how they do what they do is AMAZING!!!! The ER could not function without them

  • AlisonH

    April 26, 2007 at 12:19 am

    By the way, Kristine up there is one of my favorite people, and it would take a lot to upset her. I knew she would appreciate knowing there really are hospitals where what she accomplished during her six month stint would be valued highly. Thank you for writing this post, from me, for her sake.

  • Jo

    April 27, 2007 at 2:50 am

    I have developed (with help and stealing) a chess theory of the ER. Some nights it’s very elaborate, but mostly it boils down to this:
    1. The patients are pawns (expendable)
    2. The RN’s are the rooks, knights, and bishops because they have their certain ways of moving.
    3. The ER docs are the King (because they only move one space at a time.)
    4. The ER clerk is the queen because if the queen is lost – the game is over!

    Use the theory as you will.

About Me

My name is Kim, and I'm a nurse in the San Francisco Bay area. I've been a nurse for 33 years; I graduated in 1978 with my ADN. My experience is predominately Emergency and Critical Care, and I have also worked in Psychiatry and Pediatrics. I made the decision to be a nurse back in 1966 at the age of nine...

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