Primary vs. Urgent vs. Emergency Care: Which Work is Right for You?

As a physician, you have a wide range of options when it comes to choosing a medical facility to work in. Some of the most common medical facilities are primary care, urgent care, and emergency care. There are similarities among these three facilities, but overall they’re vastly different. Here’s a look at what to expect in each of these facilities.

Primary Care Physicians

Primary care physicians  (PCPs) are made up of family medicine doctors, internal medicine doctors (internists), and other physicians who specialize in treating a certain group of people (e.g., pediatricians, obstetricians/gynecologists, etc.). PCPs have either broad or specialized training in diagnosing and treating a variety of health ailments.

The general public visits their PCP once or twice a year, depending on their health needs. PCPs are also the doctors that people go to when they’re experiencing health issues that don’t require immediate medical attention but are still concerning. This means that you’ll more than likely see the same patients year after year, and your work days will be pretty steady.

Working as a primary care physician will give you some of the most stable and predictable working hours as a doctor. Most PCPs work in private practice, and their hours of operation align closer to the 9 AM to 5 PM workday— usually 7 or 8 AM until 6 PM. If you desire a schedule like this and you’re a family medicine doctor, pediatrician OB-GYN, or internist (i.e., cardiologist, endocrinologist, gastroenterologist, nephrologist, rheumatologist, etc.), then consider looking for employment in a private medical practice.

Urgent Care Physicians

The staff of an urgent care clinic is made up of physicians (family medicine, internal medicine, sports medicine, etc.), physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, and x-ray technicians. As with a primary care physician’s office, medical professionals working in an urgent care clinic can diagnose and provide treatment to patients suffering from a variety of illnesses and diseases.

Urgent care clinics exist so that people can get immediate treatment for non-life-threatening medical emergencies, such as minor:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Bites
  • Burns
  • Cuts and abrasions
  • Upper respiratory problems
  • Skin infections and rashes

However, it’s advised that they seek medical attention from their PCP first, but sometimes it’s not easy to get seen without an appointment with a PCP, whereas urgent care clinics accept walk-ins.

Working in urgent care can be a little less routine and predictable than working in a private medical setting since walk-in patients are accepted. Urgent care centers are also typically open seven days a week, with many staying open up to 12 hours each day. A typical workday as an urgent care physician may not always be so routine, and you’ll get a chance to treat many different people with many different ailments. This is ideal for physicians and other medical professionals who crave a steady workday, but still, get to experience something new.

Emergency Care Physicians

Emergency care is provided in the emergency room (ER) of hospitals, and also in ambulances as patients are being transported to the hospital. In emergency settings, you can find physicians, nurses, surgeons, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), lab technicians, and more. All of these professionals are trained in recognizing life-threatening conditions and treating and/or stabilizing these conditions to save the lives of their patients. This requires quick decision-making and fast acting.

People are advised to visit the emergency room or dial 9-1-1 if they are/think they are experiencing any life-threatening conditions, such as symptoms of a stroke or heart attack, difficulty breathing, a seizure, a head injury, abdominal pain, deep wounds, severe burns, or anything along those lines. During the height of the pandemic, people were advised to visit their emergency room if they were experiencing COVID-19 mental symptoms, and this still holds for those with weakened immune systems and those experiencing other life-threatening symptoms.

Working in an emergency care setting is the most fast-paced environment for a physician. Emergency rooms are open 24/7, though doctors don’t work 24 hours a day, seven days a week— they do work multiple hours a day, and their schedules aren’t always the same. This may be the perfect work environment for you if you don’t mind a fast-paced environment, you’re good at thinking and acting quickly, and you want something new every day.

The work environments of these three places are pretty different, so that’s the deciding factor when choosing which facility you’d prefer to work in. No matter which you choose, you’ll be able to help those in need of medical attention.

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