Flu? Poison Ivy? Spider bite? Broken bone? Rash? You name it, Tasheda Johnson has seen it.
“Every day is different—you never know what situation is going to walk through the door when you work in urgent care,” she says.
As a patient service specialist at UTMB’s Urgent Care clinic in Angleton, Johnson is the first friendly face patients see when they need after-hours or weekend care. She manages a busy front desk, greeting patients, updating their contact and insurance information, taking co-pays, printing patient labels, answering phones—and providing a sense of relief for those in need of immediate treatment.
“The majority of the time, people are so grateful that we are open late on weekdays and all day on the weekends,” says Johnson, who has worked at the urgent care clinic since it began offering services about a year ago. “That’s what’s so great about urgent care—we can help people when their regular doctor’s office is closed. It’s very convenient—people generally don’t wait more than 20 minutes to be seen.”
I meet up with Johnson on a Wednesday at 6 p.m. The clinic— which transforms from an orthopedic clinic by day to an urgent care center by night—is located down the street from UTMB’s Angleton Danbury Campus. As the sun drops below the horizon, Johnson and the urgent care staff welcome their first patients of the evening.
“Welcome to urgent care, how may I help you?” Johnson asks as a group of three people arrive. It’s a family affair—a woman explains that her son is having flu-like symptoms and her mother is experiencing pain in her right arm.
Johnson looks at their ID and insurance cards and notices that they are already in the computer system as established UTMB patients, so the check-in process is quick and easy. She takes their co-pays and kindly tells the family to take a seat in the waiting area. Johnson explains how she writes the patients’ names, time of arrival and symptoms on blue cards that are used to communicate with the nursing staff.
“We generally have two providers and a nurse and a medical assistant who may see 18 or more patients a night,” says Johnson as she lets a nurse know that the family is ready to be seen. “We all work well as a team. If someone has a question, no one hesitates to go above and beyond to help.”
With this year’s rough flu season, UTMB urgent care clinics have seen a record number of patients. At the Angleton clinic, the number of patients has doubled over the last few months— keeping everyone on their toes.
“This flu season has been crazy—at its peak, we were seeing at least 10 positive flu tests per night,” says Johnson. “Whenever I heard a provider say ‘We have a positive test!’ I would jump up and wipe everything down with disinfecting wipes and put hand sanitizer everywhere for patients and staff. We have had whole households who came to the clinic with the flu—grandma, grandkids and parents—it just went from one person to the next.”
Johnson recognizes one of the next patients, who was at the clinic a few days prior for her son who had the flu. This time, though, the woman is the patient—she points to a painful red spot on her neck that may be a spider bite.
Johnson listens carefully as the woman explains what happened and then relays the information to the nurse practitioner. Currently in school during the day to become a nurse herself, Johnson takes an additional interest in learning about all aspects of patient care.
“I volunteered at a hospital for National Honor Society when I was in high school and once I saw the care processes and how nurses advocate for their patients, I became really interested in it,” she says. “I love helping people and being busy—I think I want to go into critical care nursing.”
Critical thinking skills used in nursing are also important as a patient service specialist. As soon as a patient walks in the door, Johnson must assess whether the patient needs to be seen right away or even go straight to the emergency room.
“If I have a critical situation where a patient comes in and they are having heart palpitations or having trouble swallowing, I immediately get a nurse to triage them and see if they need to go to the ER or whether they can be treated here,” says Johnson. “A lot of people don’t know the difference between an ER and urgent care, so I oftentimes have to explain that while we are equipped to deal with many health problems, the ER is more appropriate for serious or life-threatening conditions.”
Johnson is quickly alerted to one patient who arrives with his mother and is suffering from acute abdominal pain. She gets a nurse to triage the patient, who is determined to possibly have appendicitis. In this case, he must go directly to the ER. Luckily, it is just down the street and Johnson makes sure the patient is transferred there safely.
In between patient check-ins, Johnson reviews a spreadsheet that shows which patients have been seen at the urgent care who don’t have a primary care physician. She notes where the patients live and which UTMB providers may be convenient for them to visit.
“Before the clinic opens during my next shift, I’ll call the patients who aren’t established patients and see if I can connect them with a primary care provider,” she says. “I have a list of UTMB providers who are accepting patients and I can even set up appointments for them. PCP’s can offer preventive services and help manage chronic conditions so people only go to urgent cares and EDs when absolutely necessary.”
I part ways with Johnson as a rush of people arrive at 9:30 p.m. She will stay long after the clinic’s 10 p.m. closing time, until each and every patient is seen by a provider and is satisfied with their experience. Johnson’s supervisor, Jesse Dodd, says this is just one example of her genuine care for patients and “top notch” work ethic, which has made her a pillar in the Angleton Urgent Care clinic. For Johnson, it’s just another exciting night—and she’s grateful to be part of a team who can help whoever might walk through the door.