For college freshmen who left home for the first time this year, learning to live with a roommate may be one of the easy challenges. For many, this is also the first time they will schedule medical appointments, fill prescriptions, and make decisions about their own health care. Unfortunately, many students aren’t prepared to meet these basic life challenges. But with a little planning and parental guidance, college can be an opportunity for young adults to learn how to stay healthy and figure out how to get the right care when they are ill.
At this age, “a lot of kids aren’t sure who their doctor is,” says Dr. Laura Richardson, chief of adolescent medicine at the University of Washington. For her patients heading to college, Richardson poses this question to get them thinking: “What does a health care provider need to know to take care of me?”
Get to know campus resources
First, students should know ahead of time what options are available on campus, says Dr. Megan Moreno, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin. “Students hear 300 different things during a six-hour orientation,” she says. “Many don’t remember or have a vague sense of what is available, but can’t recall how to get help.”
Health resources on campus vary a lot from school to school. Larger schools may have a full-service clinic on campus, while smaller schools might have close relationships to providers in the community. Plus there’s been an explosion of urgent care centers opening in the last few years, so students should check out all their options.
Find the right online guidance
Students also should understand when to seek medical care and what constitutes a health-related emergency. That includes when to call 911, when to go to the emergency department, and when to get a walk-in appointment. “In general, infections can’t wait. A sprained ankle can wait,” Richardson says. The most common reasons college students seek medical care include upper respiratory infection, pneumonia, strep throat, and urinary tract infection. And students shouldn’t leave home without a basic understanding of how to interact with insurance carriers, including how to find care in an emergency.
Several online resources offer help with basic questions college students may have, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s college health index, the American College Health Association’s index, and familydoctor.org.
How parents can help
Parents can help prepare students by going over the care they have been receiving at home, including how to get medication refills, seek specialty care for chronic illness, or schedule ongoing therapy.
For students on long-term medications, knowing how and where to…
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