Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary
While our overall understanding of healthy living has never been better, most people will still experience some kind of medical emergency at some point in their lives. Accidents, injuries, and severe illnesses are an unfortunate fact of life—but fortunately, they’re also more treatable than ever, thanks largely to healthcare workers like urgent care nurse practitioners.
If you like the idea of working in a smaller clinic where you’ll treat a wide variety of patients for all types of medical issues, becoming an urgent care nurse practitioner is one of the nursing career paths you should be considering. It’s an exciting, rewarding career where every day offers a new challenge—and it’s also one of the best-paying nursing specialties! In fact, we recently featured urgent care nurse practitioners on our list of the highest-paid nursing jobs in 2021.
This career guide will teach you everything you need to know about becoming an urgent care nurse practitioner, including the educational requirements, certifications, day-to-day duties, and how long it generally takes to launch your new career.
Not sure if becoming an urgent care nurse practitioner is the right nursing specialty for you? Click here to see our full list of the highest-paying nursing jobs.
Urgent Care Nurse Practitioner Definition
What is an Urgent Care Nurse Practitioner?
Urgent care nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) with extensive training and experience in emergency medicine. They’re qualified to be the lead healthcare professional in many treatment scenarios and can even carry out certain tasks that were traditionally reserved exclusively for physicians, like prescribing medications or performing minor procedures.
Urgent Care Nurse Practitioner: Job Description
What Does an Urgent Care Nurse Practitioner Do?
Urgent-care clinics are usually equipped to handle most minor to moderate injuries and illnesses, and urgent-care nurse practitioners often serve as the lead healthcare provider for patients in these scenarios. They provide initial patient assessments, take quick action to treat patients as necessary, and prescribe treatment or recovery plans that may include medication, home exercises, or referrals to physicians or other specialists. After an initial assessment, urgent care nurse practitioners may also refer their patients to a hospital emergency department if their condition requires treatment beyond what an urgent-care clinic can provide.
Urgent Care Nurse Practitioner Duties
Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of urgent care nurse practitioners include:
- Assessing patients who arrive at urgent-care clinics
- Administering emergency treatment for wounds, injuries, or illnesses
- Prescribing medication and performing minor medical procedures
- Ordering diagnostic tests and interpreting their results
- Educating patients and their caregivers on how to continue treatment at home
- Referring patients to physicians or fully equipped emergency rooms when necessary
Urgent Care Nurse Practitioner Skills
The best urgent care nurse practitioners are well-rounded medical professionals who can stay cool under pressure. You’ll often be dealing with stressed-out patients who are in pain or otherwise uncomfortable, and it’ll be important to manage your emotions and maintain a calming, professional presence. Attention to detail is also absolutely critical, as urgent care nurse practitioners often operate with limited oversight, which means you’ll need to be supremely confident in your ability to assess and treat patients thoroughly and effectively.
Where Do Urgent Care Nurse Practitioners Work?
Urgent care nurse practitioners work almost exclusively in urgent care clinics and other walk-in clinics. Working hours can vary significantly—though since many urgent care clinics are open around the clock, some urgent care NPs will need to work swing or graveyard shifts, which may fall on weekends or holidays. However, many people also enjoy the flexibility offered by the sometimes unconventional scheduling of urgent-care clinics, as there are certainly benefits to having your days off when most people in 9-5 jobs are still at work.
Urgent Care Nurse Practitioner Schooling & Certification
How Long Does it Take to Become an Urgent Care Nurse Practitioner?
What Degree Do You Need to Become an Urgent Care Nurse Practitioner?
As urgent care nurse practitioners are often the lead healthcare provider in any number of treatment scenarios, they’re required to have years of advanced medical training, plus experience practicing as an RN in emergency situations.
Like any other nursing specialty, you’ll need to start by earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited college or university. Traditionally, that requires spending a full four years in school, but with an accelerated degree program, you could earn your BSN in as little as 32 months! Urgent care nurse practitioners will also need to earn a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) before they’re eligible to practice without supervision by physicians.
Any long-term goal seems much more attainable when you break it down into individual steps, and becoming an urgent care nurse practitioner is no different.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to the education, experience, and certifications you’ll need to become an urgent care nurse practitioner:
1. Enroll in a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program
The first step in your urgent care nurse practitioner education is enrolling in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program from an accredited college or university. While graduating from nursing school will require plenty of effort and study time to master the material, nearly anyone who’s willing to work hard enough can become a registered nurse. For example, to enroll in the BSN program at Brookline College, all you’ll need is a high school diploma or GED with a GPA of 2.5 or higher, plus a passing score on the ATI-TEAS admission exam.
2. Earn Your BSN Degree
The first major milestone on your way to a career as an urgent care nurse practitioner is earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Your BSN coursework will include general-education requirements like math, literature, statistics, psychology, and communications—courses you’ll find in any bachelor’s degree program. While these classes may not have a direct connection to nursing or medicine, they’ll help you become a better problem-solver under pressure, which is critical for urgent-care NPs who must think and act quickly to treat patients who may require immediate attention.
Of course, the main focus of your BSN program will involve learning the various aspects of nursing. Many of your classes will cover how to assess and care for all types of patients, and treat many of the common injuries and illnesses you can expect to see while working as an urgent care nurse practitioner. Other classes will teach you about pharmacology and all the different medicines and units of measure used in the medical field. You’ll also cover health care law and ethics and take classes that focus on improving your evidence-based decision-making. These courses are where you hone the clinical instincts you’ll need to make fast, accurate decisions while treating multiple patients, and where you’ll learn to deal with certain situations that may have moral or legal implications.
Alongside your nursing-specific coursework, you’ll also spend time studying related medical sciences like anatomy, microbiology, nutrition, and human development. Because urgent care nurse practitioners see such a wide variety of patients with an equally varied set of medical issues, an in-depth knowledge of the human body and its systems will help you diagnose and treat your patients as effectively as possible.
The final step of your BSN education requires completing a clinical capstone program, which will give you real-world experience working with actual patients. While your nursing education will involve plenty of hands-on training and even simulated emergency situations, there’s no substitute for real-world experience where your patients are experiencing real symptoms and emotions.
Wherever you choose to pursue your nursing degree, make sure it’s with a college that’s up-to-date on the latest training tools, and one that’s committed to supporting their students from orientation to graduation and beyond. Nursing schools that offer students extra services like job-placement programs can sometimes even help you find RN jobs that’ll be waiting for you as soon as you graduate!
3. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam
Anyone working as an urgent care nurse practitioner must first get licensed as a registered nurse, which requires passing the NCLEX-RN exam. The NCLEX is a computer-adaptive test, meaning the number of questions and the amount of time it takes will depend on how many questions you answer correctly. The highest number of questions is typically around 265 over a maximum of six hours—however, the test can also be over in as few as 75 questions if you get on a hot streak with all the right answers! Two optional breaks are scheduled at the 2-hour mark and the 3.5-hour mark. If you’re nervous about the exam, you may want to consider taking a practice test—getting a look at the test format in advance can relieve a lot of nerves, and you’ll also be able to discover any areas that may require a little more study time.
4. Gain Experience as a Licensed Registered Nurse
Once you’ve passed the NCLEX, you’ll be eligible to receive a nursing license from the state in which you intend to practice. The NCLEX is nationally recognized, which means you have the flexibility to either stay close to home, or make a fresh start somewhere new! For a future career as an urgent-care nurse practitioner, you’ll likely want to seek out relevant RN experience in hospital emergency rooms or urgent-care clinics, where you’ll likely have a chance to be mentored by other urgent care NPs.
Nursing license renewal requirements vary by state, but you’ll generally need to renew your license every two to three years. As long as you’ve been actively working as an RN or participating in continuing education programs (like an MSN degree program, for example), keeping your nursing license current should be relatively simple.
5. Earn a Postsecondary Nursing Degree
Since urgent care nurse practitioners are often the first medical professionals to see patients who may be seriously ill or injured, they must complete a postgraduate nursing degree focused on emergency medicine—almost always a master’s of science in nursing (MSN). Many educational institutions offer MSN programs aimed at acute or emergency care, which will prepare you to be the frontline healthcare provider for your urgent-care patients.
You’ll find advanced-practice MSN programs at nursing schools across the country, including online programs that allow working full-time as a registered nurse while earning your master’s degree. Typically, earning your MSN degree takes two more years in school, though you can finish some accelerated programs as quickly as 18 months.
6. Become a Certified Nurse Practitioner
After completing an MSN program centered on advanced-practice nursing, you’ll be eligible to get certified as a nurse practitioner by either the American Nurses Credentialing Center or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. The AANP offers a certification specifically for emergency nurse practitioners (ENPs), though many urgent care nurse practitioners are also licensed as family nurse practitioners (FNPs). NP certifications from both the ANCC and the AANP are valid for a full five years before you’ll need to go through the renewal process.
Urgent Care Nurse Practitioner Salary
How Much Do Urgent Care Nurse Practitioners Make?
According to Salary.com, urgent care nurse practitioners average an annual salary* of just over $113,000, which works out to over $54 per hour. Urgent care nurse practitioner salaries for the top 10% of earners start at $128,000 per year and can even go up from there.
Urgent Care Nurse Practitioner Job Outlook
What is the Job Outlook for Urgent Care Nurse Practitioners?
Urgent-care clinics continue to pop up in many places throughout the country, making healthcare more accessible and affordable for many people who may otherwise avoid seeking care. And as expected, more urgent-care clinics mean more jobs for urgent care nurse practitioners! While the BLS doesn’t provide detailed job data specifically for urgent care NPs, the overall number of nurse practitioners is expected to increase an impressive 45% by the year 2030. Considering the average growth rate for all other jobs is only around 4%, urgent care nurse practitioners can expect to have excellent long-term job prospects for many years to come.
Ready to Start Your Career as an Urgent Care Nurse Practitioner?
If there’s one universal truth of humankind, it’s that we’ll continue to find new and exciting ways to injure ourselves. If you like the idea of a fast-paced environment—but think you might prefer a slightly quieter pace than your average hospital emergency room—becoming an urgent care nurse practitioner could be the ideal nursing career for you! Not only is it one of the highest-paid nursing specialties, urgent care NPs frequently find it rewarding to utilize every aspect of their nursing training to tackle new challenges every day.
Ready to start your journey toward a rewarding career as an urgent care nurse practitioner? Click here to learn more about the BSN program at Brookline College, and take the first steps toward your new career in nursing today!