Urgent Care Career Options

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Urgent care is the field of medicine that involves treating acute medical issues that are not serious enough (or "emergent") to require emergency care. Urgent medicine physicians provide convenient care for patients who can't get into their primary care physician for any reason or who just want a quick, more convenient option if their primary care physician's office is too crowded or far away.

Most urgent care physicians are trained in primary care, either family medicine or internal medicine. There are many similarities between urgent care and primary care, but urgent care physicians don't provide ongoing treatment for chronic medical needs.

Practice Environment

Most urgent care treatment is provided in an outpatient office setting. Sometimes urgent care facilities are also referred to as "immediate med" or "doc-in-the-box." Office hours for urgent care are often longer and later than office hours for traditional physician offices. Most are open 12 hours a day. Some urgent care offices are open during the weekend.

Typical Work Week

Urgent care docs will see about 25 to 30 patients per day, and work 40 to 50 hours per week if full-time. Patients may come in for a variety of urgent issues that can be diagnosed with basic tests and treated quickly and easily with minor procedures or medication.

Coughs and colds, lumps, bumps, minor infections, or injuries are all things that may be treated via urgent care. If the diagnosis is something chronic or serious, the urgent care physician may send the patient on to the hospital for emergency care if needed, or to a specialist, or back to a primary care physician for chronic or ongoing medical needs.

How to Become an Urgent Care Physician

Working in urgent care doesn't typically entail any additional or specialized training on top of the training one receives as a primary care physician. If you become fully trained as a physician in family medicine or internal medicine, you are qualified to practice urgent care.

Additional Training and Certifications

Most urgent care office careers do not require any significant additional training or certification specific to urgent care. There are many similarities to primary care, so if you've worked in primary care, the transition to urgent care should be relatively smooth.

Any time you transition to a new healthcare career, you will need to be trained on any processes and procedures of your new practice or employer. Otherwise, you would not likely need any specific certifications or degrees specific to urgent care to work in order to work at an urgent care practice.

Other Careers

In addition to the physicians in the urgent care practice, an urgent care facility also staffs many other types of healthcare professionals who work with the physicians. Since most urgent care facilities are self-contained, free-standing facilities that operate independently from hospitals or other clinics, these offices must be fully staffed with a wide range of healthcare workers, including other clinicians and support staff, to be completely functional.

To help increase the number of patients that can be treated in a given day, an urgent care practice may hire advanced practice clinicians such as a nurse practitioner (NP) or a physician assistant (PA).

Supporting the staff of providers would be a team of nurses and medical assistants. Most practices will hire about one additional nurse per provider, so if there are, for example, two physicians and one PA in the practice, they would hire three additional nurses or medical assistants.

Additionally, the urgent care center would need front office staff (receptionists, and front desk check-in), and back office staff (medical billers and coders). However, if the urgent care is part of a larger health network, back office functions may be run through the larger health system off-site from the urgent care office. Additionally, there may be an office manager or practice administrator hired to keep the office running smoothly and to supervise scheduling and general operations of the practice and the staff.

If the urgent care has a lab onsite, then there may be a lab technician or technologist needed to run the lab. However, the lab work may be sub-contracted through a third-party laboratory service provider.

Why Work in Urgent Care?

Many people who work in urgent care like the immediate nature of it—they like the quick turn-around after a patient comes into an office. Patients come in with an issue, and usually, leave with a fix of some sort. Physicians and providers who prefer urgent care work are those who enjoy being able to resolve medical issues in one visit and send the patient on their way.

Also, urgent care is often not as intensely stressful or high-pressure and fast-paced as emergency medicine. Therefore, urgent care careers can be a great "middle ground" for healthcare professionals who are torn between working in primary care and a career in emergency medicine.

One downside of working in urgent care is that there is not really any continuity of care. Since urgent care medical treatment is more episodic, you may never see a patient again once you treat them. Therefore, if you prefer to follow cases over time and form an ongoing clinical relationship with a patient base, then you may want to consider primary care or a different specialty altogether.

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