Is There a Doctor on the Campus?
College Medical Staff is On Call
For most college students going away to school, this will be their first time to decide what to do when they don’t feel well. Yes, mom is usually a phone call away, but then what?
From migraines to kidney problems, sore throats to sinus infections, even minor things may need the help of a professional when Dr. Mom isn’t close enough for a house call.
Statistics show that students average three visits to college health centers each year. While most are young and healthy, they seek help for common ailments like colds and sports injuries.
Colleges are also working to address the rise in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among young adults. Most health centers can refer students to off-campus clinics for testing and treatment, and many offer on-site screening and care for common infections.
Health center personnel also talk with freshmen about the extra pounds that every new college student adds the first year due to bad eating habits, giving them dietary information to help offset the risk of eating disorders created after students try “do it yourself” methods.
Binge drinking is also addressed, since nearly half of college students—both men and women—identify themselves as binge drinkers. Most students don’t realize that binge drinking is defined as five drinks in a row for men, and four for women.
Beyond Sick Bay
It’s a brave new college world, and one big change is medical services available to students. Gone are the days of the bleak infirmary, major universities are modern and student-friendly. While decades ago kids with mono would have been the norm for sick bays, today’s university wellness centers offer comprehensive services that often rival hometown options.
Such medical centers offer on-campus availability for students needing anything from cold medications to Pap smears to diabetes. At minimum, smaller schools offer on-staff nurses, and routine checkups, minor illnesses can be treated on-site, with referrals given for medical problems beyond the school facility’s capabilities.
Medical emergencies, like broken bones still require an ER visit. While costs can vary, other services readily available at most schools are:
- nutrition counseling
- safe-sex clinics
- stress management
- alcohol use and dangers
- STD awareness
- confidential HIV testing
- mental health referrals
- flu shots
- vision screening
- osteoporosis screening
- mini check-up (usually an appointment is necessary)
Also, schools across the country participate in days of national recognition, such as National Alcohol Screening Day, holding mini-fair events to not only bring awareness to the day’s particular health concern, but to make students more aware of the health services available.
A canvass of area schools showed Tulsa Community College’s Student Health Services has an RN on-staff from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day for appointments and drop-ins.
Also at OU, in cases of injury or sudden illness on the Norman campus, the University Police Officers will respond and make an assessment of the patient’s condition. The responding officer will either provide field treatment or call for more EMS help. At Oklahoma State University, the outpatient healthcare facility provides physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners for a reasonable co-pay.
Large schools can offers a host of additional services. For example:
- UCLA – physical therapy and acupuncture
- Illinois Wesleyan University – nurses make house calls to dorms
- University of Maryland – dentistry
- University of Rochester – assigns each freshman a single caregiver to maintain continuity of care
- University of Florida – dermatology services
Because of incidents like the Virginia Tech shooting, medical professionals at schools around the country are working more closely now with teachers and administrators to identify and help students in need of mental health services. For schools not large enough to have a mental health professional on staff, referrals are always available.
When You Need Help
When mental health services are mentioned in freshmen orientation, most speakers receive a tittering response from students. Nervous laughter may seem the norm at the beginning of the semester, but by mid-term, with exams, jobs, new environment, new friends, new activities, and new stress, the same giggling students may find themselves looking for help.
Sometimes it takes a trip home before a true problem is recognized. Young adults, especially high-achievers, will endure bouts of inexplicable tears and mounting concentration problems, unable to admit to what they might term “a weakness.” Roommates are often critical in these situations as well, noticing the change and reporting their concerns to family members or school officials.
It can also be as desperate as a roommate finding a suicide note and having to call emergency personnel to find the student before it’s too late.
Often, however, even once a student admits needing to talk to a therapist, it may be several days before an appointment is available. College health centers around the country are increasingly treating students with serious, and often suicidal, illnesses.
Sherry Benton, lead author of a 2004 Kansas State University study revealed depression and suicidal thoughts doubled in students from 1989 to 2001. Schools like the University of Miami have watched such patients nearly double from 1990 to 2000, and then again from 2000 to the present. And that trend is no different at any other college across the country.
On a recent Good Morning America, Melody Hobson spoke in awe of college graduates she interviews who are able to boast a pre-graduation average of three internships on their resumes, whereas one was the norm less than a decade ago. In a December 2007 Today Show segment titled “Reality Check,” Dr. Michele Borba said, “College officials from coast to coast are saying our kids are smarter and sadder than ever before.”
However, our college kids are really just following the new “national norm.” A recently reported Center for Disease Control (CDC) study showed a 48% increase in American’s prescribed use of antidepressants, with antidepressants comprising nearly 5% of 2005’s 2.4 billion prescribed drugs. This does not even consider those who self-prescribe with alcohol. So, how can college students escape?
Therapists can help students with a range of problems. Family fights and dating dilemmas are two of the most often cited reasons for scheduling appointments, and eating disorders and drug abuse also hit the top 10 list. KSU’s Benton blames all of this as a symptom of colleges’ more stressful side in today’s multi-task world.
Also, with soaring tuition, a volatile job market after graduation, and the increased pressure for high performance and better grades, Benton said, “It’s easy to decide you don’t have time to sleep, exercise, cook and eat good meals. But if you keep doing it, there will be mental health consequences.”
A good roommate can be crucial as a sounding board to vent frustrations and help adjust to college life. But this kind of support shouldn’t ride on one person’s shoulders. Experts suggest students be open about their blues to a wide circle of friends. It’s too much for one confidante to handle. Having a shoulder to lean on is great, but having that group shoulder is even better.
While it’s human nature to say “I don’t have a problem” until it’s too apparent to deny, students heading for college need to know there is help available when they feel they cannot cope. While the giggles in orientation may be trying to say, “not me,” at least students are hearing help is out there, and parents should reinforce this option.
Looking for a Good Doctor?
Before your child sets off for college, ask your personal care physician for a referral for a doctor in the college city. While campuses usually have student health services, having a referral will help give you peace of mind, and your child’s health records can be sent on ahead.
If you don’t have a physician, or your child gets to college then needs a medical professional, try the Internet. Through Vitals.com you can key in the name and location of a doctor you’re considering and “check up on the doc.” Or if you need a doctor, there’s a key to find one, and another button to click if you have a problem but don’t know what type of doctor to go to.
Many insurance companies can help you find an area doctor through their web sites as well. But be sure to check that your medical policy covers office visits outside your home area. Many insurance companies make you jump through a number of hoops to get a bill paid when the student is not in the home area.
Legal Drugs are Still…Drugs
In our 24/7 lifestyle, it’s natural to want to try to get the most out of every day. But for students, that often means loading up on caffeine and stimulants like ephedra (aka ma-huang) to run faster or burn the midnight oil. More and more college students find themselves needing medical attention after taking too much NoDoz or overdoing it with Red Bull.
Like the herbal stimulant ma-huang, all of these things raise blood pressure and heart rate. Ephedra, in particular has been a news item for years now after causing death, especially when young adults are taking the medication then participating in strenuous physical activities.
Prescription medications like Ritalin and Adderall, critical to people who actually have conditions warranting the medication, but a stimulant to any who don’t, are being misused—especially at the college level. More dangerous is the misuse of prescription painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin, morphine and codeine, all of which can be highly addictive and deadly if mixed with alcohol or taken in too large doses.
Before students head off to college, parents need to make them aware of the dangers of stimulants. Remind them that while other students may tout their benefits when cramming for finals, the risk is much too great, and to never take prescription medications not prescribed to them by a physician.