You might like to work in an urgent care clinic if...
You won’t be the subject of a hit TV show, but you’ll experience plenty of action in this growing segment of health care.
If you’re looking for a health care job urgently, you might want to look to urgent care.
Urgent care is one of the fastest growing segments in heath care, according to a report published in November 2015 by research firm IbisWorld. And almost 90% percent of urgent care centers—a.k.a. “walk-in clinics”—expected patient visits to increase and had plans for expansion in the coming year, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.
Long wait times for primary and emergency room care have fueled some of the growth. Emergency rooms have long struggled in keeping up with the steady stream of patients. Meanwhile, the primary care market has not expanded fast enough to accommodate all the people with new health care coverage due to the Affordable Care Act. So urgent care clinics are filling a medical middle ground for people who aren’t ill enough to justify an hours-long trip to the emergency room, but also don’t want to wait to schedule a doctor visit.
While this industry isn’t likely to serve as the premise of a hit primetime network show, it offers interesting fast-paced jobs—and far less drama than the ER. How to tell if it’s right for you:
You like thinking on your feet
Joseph Sliwkowski is a family medicine and sports medicine doctor at CareWell Urgent Care in Framingham, Massachusetts. In his urgent care work, he says the challenge is that you never know who might walk in the door with what problem on any given day.
For example, he recently had two patients come in: one from Brazil and one from El Salvador. One came in with pinkeye, and the other with a rash. “Those are pretty typical things, except with where they were coming from, there’s concern about the Zika virus,” he says, referring to the virus that’s seen outbreaks in Central and South America. Ordinarily, these would be viewed as two unrelated, benign walk-in cases, but under the circumstances these cases had to be viewed as potentially related and serious. It takes as keen of an eye to spot this in an urgent care setting as it would anywhere else in health care. (There has officially been only one reported case of Zika virus in Massachusetts.)
Jay Woody is the founder and chief medical officer at Texas-based Legacy ER & Urgent Care, a hybrid clinic that can treat a variety of maladies that need immediate attention. “On any given day, it’s not uncommon to treat a patient that’s dealing with a heart attack and then immediately treat a 5-year-old with strep throat,” he says. The difference can be intense, so it’s vital that providers be ready to approach each situation with the same exceptional level of care, he says.
You like being part of a small staff
Urgent care clinics are often fairly small and have limited hours, sometimes supplementing clinic or ER services nearby. Donna Hoover, who manages urgent care at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, says her urgent care clinic usually has one provider, and sometimes two, on duty, depending on the hours, as well as one medical assistant or licensed practical nurse and one person at the registration desk.
The American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine recommends about 10 employees total if the center sees around 60 patients a day, and fewer employees if the patient volume is smaller. With such a small workplace, it’s likely you’ll be asked to serve several different roles, no matter your job title.
You don’t mind odd hours
Sliwkowski says he works three 12-hour shifts one week, and then four the next, covering every other weekend. “It can mean long days when you’re there—we don’t close the doors until 8, but if you walk in at 7:59, we’ll see you.”
He says it’s handy to have time off during the week and while the pace can be hard, the fact that he’s not on call makes up for it.
You can work fast—without sacrificing compassion
Sliwkowski says it can be a challenge to see up to 40 people a day, many for the first time, and try to connect with them—but therein lies the key to working in urgent care.
“[Patients] come in fearful and looking for answers, and you’re someone new they’ve never met,” he says. “I enjoy working hard to connect with them, finding out why they are there, and do everything possible to make sure they’re listened to and that they feel safe and get good care.”
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