College students, your physical and mental health can have a big impact on the next few years of your life away from home.
By Dr. Meghna Sebastian, adolescent medicine physician at Texas Children’s Hospital
You’re nervous, yet excited. You have your checklist ready. Don’t forget the alarm clock, the school supplies, posters, mini refrigerator, mini sewing kit and, of course, the umbrella. You should also be sure and add a little something to that checklist: Your health. Think of these five things as you plan for college:
- Identify your resources: Be familiar with the student health center and the services they can and cannot provide. Make an appointment to be seen by them once you get settled on campus. Think about what will be available to you for an emergency. Where will you get your medications filled? Is there a doctor who can see you if needed? Ask your current doctor to recommend one (particularly if you see a specialist).
- Precollege heath exam: See your doctor and have them review your health history. This is a good time to bring up any concerns you may have regarding your health. Consider having a confidential discussion with your doctor about smoking, alcohol use, contraception, safe sex and your mental health. If you have a chronic health care need, have your doctor send your medical records to the student health center. Your doctor can also provide you with an easy to read summary of your health care, medications, allergies and vaccinations. Keep an electronic copy of this document for easy access.
- Immunizations: Make sure you have received vaccines that protect you against chicken pox, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, human papilloma virus, influenza, meningococcal disease, measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), polio and tetanus – diphtheria – pertussis (Tdap). The MenB vaccine is a recently added vaccine that fills a gap in the meningitis vaccine coverage and is recommended for certain high risk groups of patients. Talk to your doctor about it (as the TV commercials say). For all you needle shy people out there, the good news is that if you have kept up with your vaccines through childhood, you probably will be able to get away with very few shots.
- Medications: Make sure you have an adequate supply of medications and copies of all your prescriptions. Your health summary can include a list with instructions on how you should take them. Most importantly, know why you take the medications.
- Health insurance: With the affordable care act (now law) many of you can remain on your parent’s insurance until you turn 26. If that’s the case, get a copy of your insurance card for you to keep, and take a picture of it on your phone. If you have children’s Medicaid or CHIP, remember that at age 19 you will probably no longer be eligible for them. Under some circumstances, particularly if the state where you will be living has expanded Medicaid coverage, you may be eligible for adult Medicaid. If not, consider buying a subsidized plan on the health insurance market place (www.healthcare.gov).
Some resources on this topic are: http://www.thinkcollege.net/ (for students with intellectual disabilities), http://gottransition.org/ and the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine app which is called “Thrive.” Finally, good luck on the wonderful journey ahead!