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As Retail and Urgent Care Clinics Grow, Nurses See New Opportunities

October 2013

In today's fast-paced healthcare industry, new challenges can arise rapidly. Because of that, it is no surprise that healthcare professionals continue to develop innovative solutions to help meet those challenges. In many cases, these solutions can present new opportunities for nurses, and for that reason, nurses must be flexible and able to adapt quickly to the emerging roles and settings of the 21st century.

Among the innovative developments in today’s healthcare marketplace is the growing number of retail and urgent care clinics. Nurse practitioners are often the driving force behind these clinics, providing patients with convenient and affordable care for a wide variety of ailments. With their increasing popularity, retail and urgent care clinics present an opportunity for nurses looking to take on larger leadership roles and provide more direct care to patients in need.

“The emergence of retail and urgent care clinics is all about making access to quality healthcare easier and more affordable,” said Angela K. Golden, DNP, FNP-C, FAANP, co-president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). “Nurses tend to go where patients need them to be, and because the need for more affordable care is likely to continue to rise, retail and urgent care clinics make great settings for nurses to consider.”

While it may seem that retail and urgent care clinics are similar in many ways, there are key differences in the two settings, including the services that each provides. Retail clinics typically offer treatment for specific non-urgent ailments, and nurses are usually primary caregivers in this setting, whereas urgent care clinics treat conditions that are not necessarily life threatening but need immediate attention, such as sprains, burns and ear infections.

“Retail clinic nurses are committed to providing quality primary care to patients in their communities, and sometimes that care is needed outside of traditional office hours,” said Angela Patterson, MS, FNP-BC, chief nurse practitioner officer at CVS MinuteClinic in Boston, Mass.

In many cases, nurses will keep their clinics open every day and see patients without an appointment. In addition to treatment, they often provide health services such as blood sugar monitoring and vaccinations.

According to research conducted in 2009 and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a survey of cost, quality and availability of retail clinics determined that on almost all measures, nurse-staffed clinics scored very high. Since then, the number of retail clinics across the country has steadily increased, and the nurse’s role in this setting has grown as a result.

“Before nurses can provide care, we must assess the patient’s situation and determine whether or not the retail clinic is an appropriate setting for that patient to be treated,” said Patterson. “For example, if someone shows up with a cough, he or she may have a cold or a respiratory infection that can easily be treated. In some cases, however, the cough could be a symptom of an underlying issue that may require a higher level of care, such as pneumonia.”

In those situations, the job of the nurse shifts from caregiver to advocate, working to educate the patient and getting him or her to the appropriate level of care. Depending on a patient’s condition, that higher level of care could potentially be an urgent care clinic. While some urgent care clinics offer similar primary care services to patients, many provide secondary care and cater to more urgent needs than what would be addressed in a retail setting.

In addition to nurses, urgent care clinics can be staffed with physicians trained in family or emergency medicine, as well as medical assistants. As a result, the level and type of care they provide depends on the expertise and capabilities of their medical staff. A clinic staffed with doctors and nurses trained in emergency care may treat one-time issues such as deep cuts or a high fever, while others may treat more ongoing ailments that require follow-up visits and monitoring.

“The urgent care clinic medical staff relies heavily on nurses,” said Ashley Strait, LPN at Access Medical Center in Newcastle, Okla. “We are typically the first ones to see the patients and are trained to identify certain medical problems right away. Because of the urgent nature of many problems we see in this setting, nurses are vital to ensuring that patients are treated properly and in a timely manner.”

Nurses who work in retail and urgent care clinics often find it very rewarding. In urgent care clinics, the fast-paced environment allows nurses to take immediate action, and make a quick and direct impact on their patients. Retail clinics present great leadership opportunities for nurses, as they are often their facilities’ sole healthcare providers. However, the clinic setting can also present challenges for nurses compared to those who work in more traditional health facilities.

“Nurses who work in clinics often work within a wide, virtual campus,” said Patterson. “In traditional organizations, you may be working on a site alongside all of your colleagues. In the clinic setting, your clinic is often one of several locations within your company all around your state – and sometimes across the country.”

In retail settings, nurse practitioners may work alone during a shift, while some urgent care nurses work alongside physicians and medical assistants. Because clinic nurses don’t always share the same physical location as many of their colleagues, it is vital for them to stay connected with others within their organization in order to continue learning and growing in their careers.

Though not always required, many retail and urgent care clinics seek certified nurse practitioners to staff their facilities. For more information on becoming a nurse practitioner, visit

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