Trade offs in Urgent Care

I enjoy my Urgent Care job
The patients come by the mob
But sometimes it’s our fate
We’re not done, but it’s late,
The rush just makes the staff sob.

Synopsis: I’m a Family Practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. In 2010 I danced back from the brink of burnout, and honoring a 1 year non-compete clause, travelled and worked in out-of-the-way places in Alaska, Nebraska, Iowa, and New Zealand. After three years working with a Community Health Center, I am back having adventures in temporary positions until they have an Electronic Medical Record System (EMR) I can get along with. I spent the winter in Nome, Alaska, followed by assignments in rural Iowa and suburban Pennsylvania. After my brother-in-law’s funeral, a bicycle tour of northern Michigan, and cherry picking in Sioux City, I’m travelling back and forth between home and Pennsylvania. Any patient information has been included with permission.

I enjoy my current gig for an Urgent Care facility in suburban Pennsylvania.

My nominal work hours run from 8:00AM to 8:00PM. I go late on average one night out of three. Patients generally come in with problems of short duration and intense acuity. Most have a primary care provider who can’t see them in less than 3 days. Because management has developed a patient-centered approach, I do little redundant clerical work and thus I can spend a lot more time concentrating on patient care.

So far this week slow patient flow in the morning has given way to a brisk pace in the afternoon. Staff morale stays high, the big gripe comes against the rush of patients that starts after 7:00PM (about half the time). So tension builds on quiet nights as the clock ticks out the last half hour.

Poison ivy made up half the business back in June, but is now decreasing in frequency and severity. I have sewn up a lot of finger and hand lacerations. Two or three times a day we have the joy of curing the patient before they leave, mostly by taking out ear wax; but we also drain an average of one abscess a day. A majority of the x-rays I order show fractures.

People around here like to vacation at the beach, mostly New Jersey,Virginia and the Carolinas. We get a significant number of patients with swimmer’s ear and urinary tract infections related to the travel and swimming. And also the worried well who don’t want to be sick while on vacation.

August brings in the sports physical crowd. Basically healthy, the rare surprise disqualifications justify the activity.

Then, sometimes, with such a high patient volume (I consider 30 in a 12-hour shift light), serious illness demands an ambulance or an injection. Twice so far today I’ve advised patients to go directly to ER.

Earlier this week I helped wheel a patient into her waiting vehicle. I enjoyed breathing the warm summer air and smelling growing vegetation and seeing the summer thunderheads building in the north.

Occasionally a physical finding I’ve never before seen heralds a puzzle, and I refer to a specialist.

We refer all broken bones to orthopedists.

Urgent Care has its share of joys but so much of the fun comes from the fast pace and the easy-to-solve problems that the awe and mystery of unraveling complex disease one lab result at a time gets lost. An upscale, insured population obviates the opportunity to serve the under-served. And I miss speaking Spanish.

Life always involves tradeoffs.


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