If you’re thinking of a career in health care you might picture yourself in a doctor’s office or a hospital. But have you ever considered working at an outpatient care clinic? Outpatient care clinics provide medical care or treatment that doesn’t require an overnight stay in a hospital or medical facility1 and include many different types of clinics you might already be familiar with. For example, retail, also called convenient care, clinics and urgent care clinics all provide outpatient care.
Most people have trouble telling the difference between these two types of clinics and may not be sure what services are provided there. Let’s begin by reviewing the basics and then going over how these outpatient clinics are impacting the field.
Retail Care Clinics vs Urgent Care Clinics
If you’ve ever seen or visited a clinic inside a pharmacy or grocery store you’ve visited a retail (or convenient) care clinic. People often visit these types of clinics for minor illnesses and to get their flu shots. Non-physician providers, such as medical assistants, nurses and nurse practitioners, typically staff retail clinics.2
Urgent care clinics, on the other hand, are usually freestanding and can treat the same minor conditions treated at a retail clinic. They can also treat more serious conditions such as sprains, strains, cuts, contusions, back pain, fractures and even perform minor surgeries. These types of clinics are staffed by medical assistants, nurse practitioners or nurses but must have at least one doctor on site at all times. 3
Advantages and disadvantages
The popularity of both retail and urgent care clinics is increasing, mainly because of the convenience these types of clinics offer. You don’t need an appointment for most urgent and retail clinics and they often have short waiting times. These clinics are also very affordable, they are generally cheaper than a visit to the doctor, and these clinics accept different types of insurance. 4
There are stigmas around these types of clinics, particularly that the quality of the care is lower because they are staffed mainly by non-physician providers. Though, a study by the RAND corporation reported consumers rate the quality at retail clinics highest, followed by urgent care clinics, doctor’s offices and emergency rooms.5 Another disadvantage is the high turnover rate with staff.
A 2011 survey by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners found that nurse practitioners working in retail clinics were unsatisfied with performing nonclinical duties and felt that there wasn’t room for professional growth, which are reasons why they might choose to leave their positions at these types of clinics. However, these nurses shared that advantages of working in retail clinics were the ability to work independently with patients and the level of pay.6
What does it mean for your career?
Retail and urgent care clinics are expected to be key treatment locations for millions of Americans gaining health coverage through the Affordable Healthcare Act.
There are roughly 1,600 retail clinics in the U.S. Eight hundred of those clinics are CVS-operated MinuteClinics, making them country’s largest provider of retail health care.7CVS chief medical officer Andy Sussman told attendees at the 2013 Forbes Healthcare Summit that number is projected to grow to more than 1,500 in the next four years. 8
This means that there will be an increased demand for medical assistants, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses/licensed vocational nurses, nurse practitioners and medical office managers to help meet the staffing needs for these clinics. If you are considering a career in the health care, a degree in these fields could strengthen your chances of finding a job.
1‘Outpatient,’ About.com Health Careers
2 ‘Choosing Between the Urgent Care Center, In-Store Clinic, and ER,’ U.S. News & World Report Health
3‘Retail Vs. Urgent Care Clinic: What’s The Difference?,’ HealthcareHacks
4‘Popularity of ‘Walk-In’ Retail Health Clinics Growing: Poll,’ U.S. News & World Report Health
5 ‘Drive-Thru Medical: Retail Health Clinics’ Good Marks,’ TIME
6 ‘Survey explores NP job satisfaction in retail clinics,’ The Clinical Advisor
7‘Why CVS Isn’t Selling Cigarettes Anymore,’ The Atlantic
8‘CVS Drives Retail Clinic Growth As Obamacare Launches,’ Forbes