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The Ultimate Guide to Urgent Care Nursing

What Is Urgent Care Nursing? Jobs Resource Guide

Both the availability and use of urgent care have increased significantly over the past few years. In 2019, 29.2 percent of adults had been to an urgent care center or retail health clinic in the previous twelve months. Urgent care centers and retail clinics offer patients more flexibility and are easier to use for people without a usual provider or place of care. In addition, these healthcare settings are usually less expensive for patients and relieve overburdened emergency rooms. 

Whether you are a newly graduated nurse or an experienced nurse ready for a career change, read on to learn everything there is to know about urgent care nursing to help you decide whether this specialty is right for you. 

Table of Contents

What Does Urgent Care Mean in Medical Terms?

Urgent Care

The definition of urgent care is the medical treatment that is required urgently—or within twenty-four hours—but is not meant to treat life-threatening conditions, such as heart attacks or serious head injuries, which should be treated in the emergency room (ER). Thus, urgent care centers are alternatives to both primary care physician's offices, which are not open around the clock and require previous appointments, and emergency rooms, which are not meant to treat non-emergency conditions. Urgent care is also a good option for people with illnesses or injuries without other symptoms or for people without other underlying health conditions.

The following are examples of conditions that could be treated in an urgent care center:

  • Fever or flu
  • Sore throat or cough
  • Breathing difficulties, such as mild to moderate asthma
  • Diarrhea, vomiting, or dehydration
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Accidents and falls
  • Cuts that might need stitches
  • Minor broken bones and fractures in fingers or toes
  • Sprains and strains
  • Diagnostic services, such as X-rays and laboratory tests
  • Skin rashes and infections
  • Eye irritation and redness
  • Moderate back problems

What Does UC Stand For?

The abbreviation UC stands for urgent care. Similarly, UCC stands for urgent care center. Urgent care centers or clinics are usually staffed with physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and other nurses. These clinics generally have set hours and established lists of conditions that they treat. Consequently, urgent care clinics often are less expensive than emergency rooms and have shorter wait times.

What Is an Urgent Care Unit in a Hospital?

Hospitals don’t have urgent care units. In fact, urgent care centers are alternatives to hospital emergency rooms. These centers are ambulatory walk-in clinics offering care for minor illnesses and injuries. These centers may also be referred to as minute clinics, quick care clinics, after-hours walk-in clinics, minor care clinics, or minor emergency centers. Although some of these centers may use the word “emergency” in their names, these centers should not be confused with emergency rooms. One significant difference between emergency rooms and urgent care centers is that the latter do not have state or federal mandates to see, treat, or stabilize patients independently of the patient’s ability to pay. There are also limited regulations or state licensing requirements for urgent care centers.

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What Is the Role of an Urgent Care Registered Nurse?

An urgent care registered nurse collaborates with other healthcare team members to provide therapeutic patient- and family-centered, ethical, culturally sensitive, and evidence-based care. A UC registered nurse (RN) collects and assesses patient data to develop, execute, and evaluate care plans in coordination with patients, family members, and other healthcare team members. They are guided by factors related to effectiveness, safety, and fiscal accountability when planning and delivering care. They also might delegate and supervise care.

What Does an Urgent Care Registered Nurse Do?

As part of the general role of providing care in collaboration with other healthcare team members, urgent care registered nurses have many specific responsibilities. The duties of an urgent care registered nurse include the following: 

  • Triaging patients either in person or over the phone 
  • Reviewing and acting on test results
  • Initiating and monitoring intravenous (IV) infusions
  • Assisting with the management of central venous access devices
  • Assisting with or performing procedures, such as changing dressings and giving injections 
  • Educating patients and family members regarding patient care
  • Assisting with medication management
  • Completing documentation completely and accurately
  • Assisting with the management of urgent and emergent patient care situations
  • Serving as a mentor and resource to others
  • Assisting with the coordination of care across the continuum, including inpatient, outpatient, home, skilled nursing facility, and school settings
  • Assisting with the management of patients with acute healthcare needs, multiple chronic health conditions, and behavioral health challenges, promoting prevention and wellness
  • Responding to medical emergencies

How to Become an Urgent Care Nurse and How Long Does It Take?

Urgent Care

Nurses with varying levels of education and work experience can find employment in urgent care settings. Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) who have completed one-year nursing programs can work in urgent care. Registered nurses who have completed either two-year associate’s degrees in nursing (ADNs) or four-year bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) programs can find employment in urgent care. Finally, nurse practitioners (NPs), registered nurses who have pursued higher education and advanced certifications, can also work in urgent care. Becoming a nurse practitioner requires either a master’s or doctorate in nursing as well as national certification, which combined require an additional three to six years.

It must be noted that each urgent care center may have different requirements or preferences. For example, many UCCs prefer hiring RNs with bachelor’s degrees instead of ADNs, and many require at least six months of previous nursing work experience.

Another common job requirement is a Basic Life Support (BLS) certification. Furthermore, pursuing more advanced nursing certifications gives nurses a competitive edge when applying to urgent care nursing positions. 

Urgent Care Nurse Certification?

Although there isn’t a specific certification for urgent care nurses, many certifications are relevant to this specialty. For example, registered nurses could pursue the Ambulatory Care Nursing Certification (AMB-BC™), which is offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Additionally, urgent care nurses could pursue certifications in family practice and emergency care since urgent care has a lot in common with these two specialties. UC shares with family and emergency nursing its broad scope of practice, being able to treat and care for male and female patients of any age. 

The Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN) offers many certification options for registered nurses, including the following:

  • Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN)
  • Certified Pediatric Emergency Nurse (CPEN)
  • Trauma Certified Registered Nurse (TCRN)

Other certification options for RNs are available through the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA), which offers the following courses:

  • Trauma Nursing Core Course (TNCC)
  • Emergency Nursing Pediatric Course (ENPC)
  • Geriatric Emergency Nursing Education (GENE) Course
  • Triage First
  • Emergency Severity Index

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Urgent Care Training for Nurse Practitioners?

Based on the previously mentioned similarities between urgent care, family practice, and emergency care, a nurse practitioner wishing to work in urgent care settings should consider pursuing a certification as an emergency nurse practitioner (ENP) or a family nurse practitioner (FNP). 

The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB) offers nurse practitioners both of these certification options:

  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
  • Emergency Nurse Practitioner (ENP)

In addition, the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) also offers nurse practitioners the Family Nurse Practitioner Certification (FNP-BC™).

How Much Does an Urgent Care Nurse Make?

Urgent care nurse salaries vary significantly based on a number of factors, including location, years of work experience, and the specific hiring facility. That said, the most significant factor is nurses’ level of education. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the following are average salaries in outpatient care centers for different levels of nursing education:

Average LPN salary in outpatient care centers: $58,170

Average RN salary in outpatient care centers: $93,070

Average NP salary in outpatient care centers: $129,190

What Is Urgent Care Nursing Like?

Urgent Care

There is no one better than an urgent care nurse to explain what this specialty is like. This UC nurse shared the following testimonial on an urgent care nursing thread on Reddit: 

“Most of my past bedside nursing experience is in the ED setting. Let me say that the urgent care is much much better. No ambulances…no unstable patients (stroke, chest pain, etc). For the most part everyone can ambulate pretty well, and if they are unstable at all we just transport them to the ED. Frankly I don't even like being a nurse but the UC is probably one of the easier departments out there.”

Another urgent care nurse on Reddit helps us imagine a day in an urgent care center through this description: 

“The patient load and flow is similar to a fast track side of an ED (I used to work in a peds ED). We can see anywhere between 30 to 70 patients a shift, so it can be extremely variable. Aside from the general patient, many urgent cares do occupational medicine, like drug screenings, breath alcohol testing, DOT physicals. That was something new to me coming from the hospital.”

Is Urgent Care Nursing Hard?

There are some conflicting takes on the challenges of working in urgent care. Some point out that the nursing care provided in urgent care settings is incredibly basic, whereas others point out that UCCs often receive patients that should have gone to an emergency room, forcing nurses to care for patients without the necessary resources.

“If urgent care clinics in your state are anything like mine, I would recommend against it. You wouldn't get enough practice in the right things. For example, if a patient comes to the ER with suspicious chest pain, we will start an IV, apply oxygen, record a 12-lead EKG, run labs, do a chest x-ray, give aspirin and nitroglycerin, and monitor their cardiac rhythm while awaiting results. When an identical patient goes to the urgent care a couple of miles away, they give aspirin and call an ambulance. Working there you'll never see the important stuff and will not practice the important skills.” – Reddit user auraseer

“I have two jobs (as an NP) one of those is In an urgent care clinic. I work with one RN or LPN. I will echo what others are saying- that this is not a place you will gain the same skill set as a regular ED. That being said- many, many people sincerely do not understand what urgent care is for and at least 2-3x a week we do have an unstable patient come through our doors. So I do think there is some value to having the ability to assess these patients. The only thing is that we immediately 911 these people out...” – Reddit user mcnursekat

“The only drawback is if an emergency happens, you, the MD, and that AED are the last lines of defense…I have seen SVT with no pulse, nonresponsive pts, motorcycle accidents, one child who ran across a newly paved road naked and sat in the tar...Anyway, you just have to expect the worst like the ED without all of the resources you normally have.” – Reddit user rwilliams2016

Why Choose Urgent Care Nursing?

Urgent Care

Urgent care is certainly not for everyone. Some would rather spend more time with patients to really get to know them, such as in long-term care (LTC) facilities. Others are drawn to more complex cases, such as those seen in intensive care units (ICUs). However, if you relate to any of the following comments, then urgent care might be perfect for you.

“I worked in 5 bed freestanding rural ER, mostly used by the locals as an urgent care for minor illness and injuries. Most came in for antibiotics and stitches. Easy job, the patients were in and out, often within an hour. Very little charting which was nice and got to see patients of all ages. I loved it…” – Reddit user LadyofthenightRN

“You'll work a lot closer with the docs and support staff compared to the ward. No set routine as patients come and go. If you have a great staff then you'll find urgent care/ER to be more of a team effort than in the ward.” – Reddit user Vex_Detrause

What Makes a Good Urgent Care Nurse: Tips for New Nurses?

Technically, a newly graduated nurse is ready to work in urgent care. Nevertheless, there are additional soft skills and specific knowledge and abilities that potential employers look for in urgent care nurses. The following are skills, knowledge, and abilities that aspiring urgent care nurses should strive to develop:  

  • Basic knowledge of telemetry and cardiac rhythms
  • Knowledge of infection control
  • Knowledge of central lines
  • Knowledge and experience using electronic medical records
  • Ability to make accurate clinical assessments and judgments
  • Ability to educate staff members
  • Ability to provide patients with compassionate and respectful counseling and emotional support
  • Ability to prioritize tasks
  • Ability to work well as part of a team
  • Ability to work independently and show initiative
  • Ability to maintain patient confidentiality
  • Excellent verbal, written, and presentation skills

Final Thoughts on Urgent Care Nursing

 Does urgent care nursing sound like a good fit for you? If so, hopefully, this ultimate guide to urgent care nursing answered all of your questions regarding this nursing specialty. On the other hand, if urgent care does not seem right for you, continue exploring other nursing specialties until you find your perfect match!

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