Physician Assistants: Working in Urgent Care

physician assistants in urgent care

Urgent care has become a popular specialty for physician assistants seeking more autonomy and the opportunity to treat patients with immediate needs.

Bridging a gap between a primary physician and the emergency room, urgent care is a medical service offering outpatient care for injuries, sicknesses and ailments that need prompt attention, but are not life-threatening. Urgent care patients might have a variety of conditions, including anything from the flu and infections to cuts and sprains.

Nature of Work

Physician assistants in urgent care perform duties similar to a physician, including medical exams and patient history intake. They must have many clinical skills and be able to quickly assess patient needs and determine if they should be directed to the emergency room for more intensive care. Physician assistants must also possess certain traits such as effective organizational skills and the ability to work well under pressure.

Although they need to be able to recognize illnesses and diseases, physician assistants in urgent care and emergency settings typically refer patients to primary care providers to help them manage their conditions.

Physician assistants are highly trained and can provide quality care within their scope of practice. Their knowledge is often respected by physicians and patients alike and some find fulfillment in the independence the urgent care setting provides them. In addition, physician assistants in the urgent care specialty will find plenty of variety and responsibility as they are often who patients come to first.

Outlook for Urgent Care Specialty for Physician Assistants

The past decade has seen an increase in the number of physician assistants working in urgent care, according to the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA).

Physician assistants in urgent care work much longer shifts (about 10 hours) than those who do not practice urgent care, AAPA surveys report. They also see more patients per week.

Walk-in free-standing urgent care centers have become common, and physician assistants have practiced urgent care within a primary care office or hospital’s emergency department for several years. Urgent care centers are typically open all seven days of the week and often located in retail locations. 

The number of urgent care centers grew from approximately 6,100 in 2013 to more than 9,600 in 2019, according to the Urgent Care Association. After many years of growth, the urgent care setting is facing many new challenges that emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic. One of those challenges is the increase in telehealth services. Some urgent care providers will adapt by offering virtual services and expanding into untapped parts of the country.

Overall, urgent care is expected to continue to fill the gap between primary and emergency room care. Urgent care is still a favorable middle ground for people who do not want lengthy wait times and inconveniencies that could exist in doctors’ offices and emergency rooms. 

Opportunities for Physician AssistantsAs a physician assistant, you can apply your professional and caring attitude toward helping patients in a variety of settings. The knowledge and experience you gain through education will go a long way in helping you choose a path you are passionate about. Continue your career journey with a Master of Science degree in Physician Assistant from Carlow University. This program equips graduates with skills including ethical leadership, compassionate care, and interprofessional collaborative competencies.