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Surviving a 12-Hour Urgent Care Shift

How does a physician make it through a 12-hour urgent care shift without burning out? Each urgent care has its own DNA, and I’ve had to adapt. But below are skills I’ve developed to make it through a 12-hour shift.

1. There is no Better Alternative

Once I get to work or schedule the shift, I don’t think of the things I miss out on. I’m not saying that there isn’t some FOMO subconsciously, but it’s not something I’ll pay much attention to.

The day I work my 12-hour urgent care shift, I get to spend with patients and hone my skills as an urgentologist. Bring it on.

2. I’m Good Enough

Some days are filled with doubt. I show up doubting my skills. It’s a grind.

No matter how I show up, I tell myself I’m good enough. An arterial bleeder comes in; I know what I must do to handle it (911, obviously.)

3. Check my Mood

My attitude and mood aren’t always in my control. I use the first couple of patients to gauge if I’m grumpy, passive-aggressive, negative, or overly enthusiastic.

I aim to be present in the moment with a hint of focus and a touch of gentleness.

If I’m feeling rather judgemental that day, I’ll focus on the suffering of the person in front of me.

4. Ask for Help

It is okay to feel overwhelmed. It is okay not to know something. It is okay to need help.

Asking for help means calling a specialist buddy or looking something up online when I’m unsure.

To make it through a 12-hour urgent care shift alive, I must let my staff know that I’m falling behind or need them to do a better job reconciling medications.

5. Don’t Sit too Much

When the urgent care slows down, it’s tempting to recline in the seat and sit, waiting for the next patient. This tends to zap any energy you have, making it hard to recover the following day.

I walk outside or listen to an audiobook while pacing around in the back rooms.

6. Engage in Conversation

Not all patients want you to rush in and get straight to the point. A little idle chit-chat can break the monotony of a 12-hour shift.

The ones I enjoy the most are hearing about someone’s travel plans or a recent vacation. And talking to inquisitive pre-health students.

7. Work at My Own Pace

I work at my own pace and my own level. Perhaps an urgent care colleague can inject a DIP like a champ and see 5.5 patients per hour.

I can only be my best that day when I show up for that 12-hour urgent care shift. Sometimes I can’t even get myself to do a simple shoulder injection; that’s okay. That’s me at my best that day.

Working at my pace means 4 patients are waiting and likely chewing out the front desk. That’s okay. It’s meant to be that way, and in the end, we’ll all get through it together.

8. Avoid Distractions

A busy urgent care shift is exhausting and sparks many distractions. I avoid them by not taking on more tasks from my staff.

If there are labs to review, they’ll take a backseat to the patients in the exam room. If there are phone calls from the pharmacy, they’ll have to wait until I feel the headspace to address them.

Along the same lines, I don’t take on problems that aren’t in my pay grade. If the nurse can’t figure out which specimen bottle to use, I don’t get involved – it’s distracting. They will eventually figure it out once they ask the right people for help.

9. Don’t Plan Something Else

Waiting for a phone call or planning some to-do list during my shift is a sure way to add anxiety and leave me feeling drained the following day.

If I have extra energy to burn off, I’ll look up pseudogout or read about TMD on the NHS website.

It’s also important that I don’t plan much else before or after my 12-hour shift. For some of you, getting your workout before or swimming afterward is great. For me, it’s nice to keep the day simple.

10. Get Enough Sleep

I need 8-10 hours to feel rested. If I don’t get enough sleep and if I don’t poop in the morning before my shift, I feel antsy.

So, I get to bed early enough, minimize my distractions that evening, and get up early for my morning diuretic of choice.

One reply on “Surviving a 12-Hour Urgent Care Shift”

I don’t mean to imply that there is anything appealing about working a 12 hour shift. With all the progress we have made in society and with PAs and NPs abound there is no reason why a physician, the thought leader in the clinical setting, should work more than 4 hours per day. Yet here we are, inching our lives forward, $120 per hour at a time.

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