Working the waiting room: managing fear, hope, and rage at the clinic gate

Med Anthropol. 2009 Jul;28(3):212-34. doi: 10.1080/01459740903070840.


In this article, we outline the contrasting perspectives of patients and receptionists and the different ways they experience waiting rooms in three U.S. medical clinics. We are doing this to show that a consideration of waiting rooms and the receptionists who work there is an important step in understanding the patient care-seeking experience. We describe the kinds of conflicts that emerge around patient waiting and the emotional labor that receptionists perform to reduce these conflicts by managing patient feelings. By doing this we expand the frame of the clinic visit to include the emotionally important space of the waiting room and revisit the concept of "emotional labor" as a way to understand non-medical care giving in clinic settings and the cultivation of emotions in others. In doing so we show the important role that clinic receptionists may play in shaping how and when patients receive health care.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Medical Receptionists / psychology*
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Primary Health Care
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Stress, Psychological*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires