It’s a tough message to find on your answering machine.
“Hi Mom and Dad, I feel terrible. I’m hot and cold and achy and all I want to do is sleep and I have a test tomorrow!”
Chances are there’s not much more you can offer than sympathy, and in some cases that may be enough. But while that first sickness away from home, with no one to tuck in the blankets and bring toast and orange juice is rough, there is help available on campus at the University of Iowa Student Health Service.
Although the staff doesn’t administer bowls of hot chicken soup, they offer more than kind words. Ten physicians, including psychiatrists and a gynecologist, registered nurses, health educators, and ancillary staff are available to help your student with colds, sore throats, and plenty more.
“We are experts in college student health,” says physician Mary Khowassah, director of the UI Student Health Service. “We see students all day, every day, and our very talented staff provides excellent care at a very reasonable rate.”
Last year, UI Student Health saw about 38,000 patient visits. About half of these were for disease diagnosis, including colds, sore throats, and flu.
“We did see a lot of flu before Thanksgiving,” says Lisa James, a registered nurse and Student Health’s nurse manager. Last fall, Student Health offered flu shots to students at the Iowa Memorial Union and other locations around campus.
“We administered significantly more immunizations than we usually do,” James says. “President Skorton sent out a campuswide e-mail, encouraging everyone to get a flu shot and we had lots of students who came in and said, ‘Well, President Skorton said I should come, so I did.’ ”
In addition to these kinds of illnesses, Student Health staff members treat many others. They provide psychiatric care and work closely with University Counseling Service (for more information, see related story in the Fall, 2003-04 Parent Times.) They offer storage for allergy medications and provide allergy injections. Pelvic exams, Pap smears, counseling and education, and low-cost birth control pills are some of their women’s health services. Physical exams and screenings are provided for students who need them before they travel abroad or take a new job. An on-site laboratory processes routine specimens, and additional lab services, including X rays, are available for students through the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Student Health staff also may refer students to the University’s specialty clinics, when necessary.
“We see a wide variety of patients, which is why I really enjoy my job here,” says Student Health Service physician Eric Evans. “In one day I’ll see a novelist from the Writers’ Workshop, a guard on the basketball team, a native of Beijing, and an 18-year-old, homesick undergraduate. It’s invigorating, and keeps us on our toes.”
If your child falls in to that last category and is ill, it’s natural for parents to want to know the details, but federal law prohibits the sharing of information without the student’s permission.
“Confidentiality is something we take seriously, and if a student is 18 or older, their visits are confidential,” Evans says. “We can listen to parents, but unless your son or daughter has signed a consent form, we can’t share information. Many students are happy to sign a form if asked.”
Evans recognizes that a lack of information can be unnerving for parents, who, in most cases, have overseen their child’s health care to this point.
“For many students, this is their first time away from home and the first time they’ve had to make health care decisions themselves,” he says. “They may not know when it’s appropriate to come in to the clinic or not to come in. Part of our mission is to teach students how the health care system works, and how to use it.”
This kind of teaching starts at Orientation, when students receive a flyer offering advice on dealing with colds and sore throats. Another resource for teaching students about health and the health care system is UI Student Health’s web site, www.uiowa.edu/~shs. The web site includes myriad articles, quizzes, and FAQs about health-related issues. In addition, it gives students a way to ask questions to help them determine if they need to be seen by a physician, and to ask potentially embarrassing questions anonymously.
These educational efforts continue with another arm of Student Health called Health Iowa. Two full-time health educators, a half-time dietitian, a half-time fitness expert, and a certified substance abuse counselor are available for individual and group sessions. They offer assistance with everything from nutrition, exercise, and weight management to alcohol and drug prevention and treatment, quitting smoking, stress management, and sexual health.
“These are things that students worry about,” James says. “We want students to think of the clinic for preventative health too. We also take our programs out into the residence halls and to campus health fairs.”
Evans, who worked previously in private practice in Cedar Rapids, sees the preventive education mission of the clinic as especially important.
“I’ve cared for 60-year-olds with heart problems and emphysema,” he says. “As a health care provider, it’s these long-term issues that are most concerning to me. College is a time when students are making choices about smoking and alcohol. I hope we can be a resource to help them make smart choices.”
by Linzee Kull McCray