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Literacy: A good quality in a unit secretary


Specializes in CCU, SICU, CVSICU, Precepting & Teaching. Has 40 years experience.

this is a vent. this is only a vent.

our unit secretaries are lovely women. but so far as i've noticed, none of them (well, maybe one of them) can read or write or do "complicated math." you know, stuff like "we have 16 beds and 15 patients plus 2 in the or and three transfers out. how many beds will we have available at 7 pm?"

if you're in an isolation room doing a sterile dressing change or trying to stem the river of poop your patient is disgorging, and someone wants to talk to you on the phone, the secretaries page overhead "ruby, you have a phone call on line 1." followed immediately by "ruby, it's line 3." (they cannot even keep straight which line your call is on, which causes a lot of hard feelings from family members who have to hold forever and then get the wrong nurse and have to hold some more.) if you don't answer your call immediately, they'll page again. it seems they cannot be separated from facebook long enough to get up, come to the door of your room and find out why you aren't answering the phone. nor will they take messages. i only recently discovered that two of the secretaries don't take messages because they cannot read or write and the other two think it's beneath them.

i've always known our secretaries couldn't spell. you'd be surprised how many ways they can "spell" ruby. (roobee, rubbee, rubbie, rube, etc.) but it wasn't until, in a housekeeping frenzy, our manager rearranged all the forms at the secretary's desk that i realized they couldn't read. they had memorized the location of the forms they'd need and just grabbed them. it helped that so many of the forms were color coded.

now management is requiring a literacy test before hiring unit secretaries. i think it's a marvelous idea, but you would not believe how much resistance it's getting. you would think that literacy would be a job requirement. not so much, i guess.


Specializes in Health Information Management.

My God, I don't know what to say. How could you POSSIBLY be a unit secretary and be partially or fully illiterate? That's crazy! If literacy isn't already part of the job description, it should be, and the literacy test should be a non-negotiable. These people aren't working at McDonald's, for heaven's sake!

I am really sorry, Ruby - that sounds like an awful mess. I hope management pushes through that literacy test regardless of the resistance!


Specializes in Geriatrics/Retirement Residence. Has 5 years experience.

Wow! Just wow! :eek:

canoehead, BSN, RN

Specializes in ER. Has 30 years experience.


1) No more Facebook, ever.

2) For families on hold longer than 30 seconds. Take a message and the nurse will call you back within the next 15 min.

3) They each get a big pretty sticker for knowing their colors. Anyone that doesn't know the alphabet gets a pink slip, and everyone else gets remedial classes unless they take and PASS that literacy test.

I have never run into this since most of them were as smart or smarter than me. Only problem I ever encountered, in a VERY small number of cases, was a tendency to play those all to familiar political games you run into on a unit. The vast majority were great people and a big help. Especially when it came to identifying and ordering rarely seen test ordered by MDs. They must have thought I was mentally deficient in some of those cases.LOL I am sure you make allowances for a person having bad day or getting a little flusted, if it happened all the time I could see how you would get frustrated.

Edited by oramar


Specializes in Oncology; medical specialty website.

Epic FAIL.

Hospice Nurse LPN, BSN, RN

Specializes in LTC, Psych, Hospice. Has 15 years experience.

Wow! I don't even know how to respond to that.

iNurseUK, RN

Specializes in Plastics. General Surgery. ITU. Oncology. Has 20 years experience.

We'd be lost without our excellent ward clerks. The great unsung heroines of the NHS.

Never met an illiterate one yet. Some are better than others and my current one is brilliant.

All hail the ward clerk. We are not worthy:bow:


Specializes in Labor and Delivery.

Lol omgosh how did they become EMPLOYED!!!!!!!!????????

nursemike, ASN, RN

Specializes in Rodeo Nursing (Neuro). Has 12 years experience.

So happy to live in WV, where almost everyone knows how to read and write. There's something to be said for a hopelessly outdated school system.


Specializes in acute care med/surg, LTC, orthopedics. Has 5 years experience.

How is it possible to graduate high school illiterate?


Specializes in student; help!.

How is it possible to graduate high school illiterate?

You'd be surprised how easy it is. Perhaps 'surprised' is the wrong word.


Specializes in ortho, hospice volunteer, psych,. Has 20 years experience.

how is it possible to graduate high school illiterate?

sad to say it happens much more than you might imagine it could.:eek::crying2:

i'm a literacy volunteer with adults and am a "reading buddy" and "math buddy" at a local elementary school. (elementary school math has changed a lot since i was that age!)

AgentBeast, BSN, RN

Specializes in Cardiology and ER Nursing. Has 7 years experience.

Can't say that I've ever come across anyone who could not read. I've seen my fair share of people who couldn't spell. Just never anyone who couldn't read. That is truly sad.


Specializes in ortho, hospice volunteer, psych,. Has 20 years experience.

can't say that i've ever come across anyone who could not read. i've seen my fair share of people who couldn't spell. just never anyone who couldn't read. that is truly sad.


what is both scary and sad is the large number of drivers (including big rig long haul truckers) who can't read at all. i have no idea how the heck they pass either test, but i've worked with four over

the years. part of what they do is to memorize shapes and landmarks, and use taped itineraries that someone who reads makes up.

canesdukegirl, BSN, RN

Specializes in Trauma Surgery, Nursing Management. Has 14 years experience.

We have a couple of OR techs that I am convinced cannot read. One of them barely speaks English. I recently went to get a liter of LR from one of the bins in the hallway that the OR techs (these are not scrub techs, but techs that transport patients, clean rooms, make blood bank runs, etc.) stock. To my shock, instead of LR, the bin was loaded with D5c20KCl. I immediately went to one of the techs standing in the hall and told him that these were the wrong fluids. He looked at me with a blank stare and said "But it has blue writing on it." Dude, seriously?

Seriously, you have never met someone who cannot read?? I am convinced the literacy level of the general public is quite low.

We instituted ordering off of a printed menu a few years ago at the hospital and you'd be amazed at the amount of people that cannot read a menu.

Assess the literacy of your patient. I think you'll be surprised and realize it's no small wonder people find the hospital confusing.

linearthinker, DNP, RN

Specializes in FNP. Has 25 years experience.

I'm jealous that you have ward clerks. Even illiterate people can photocopy and answer phones. I'll take your rejects. ;-)