You know what time it is: back-to-school! And for many students (and their parents), the countdown has begun for the official transition into their new lives as college kids. Amid the countless Target runs and existential crises that are likely to ensue in the following weeks, it is essential to make these health appointments for your college-bound kid before they depart.
Dr. Richard Brookman, a pediatrics and adolescent medicine specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University, explains that “a comprehensive review” of the student’s well-being is necessary to ensure a smooth transition into college.
In addition to discussing any chronic illnesses or health problems, “we review their diet and physical activity; any use of tobacco, alcohol or substances; any jobs or other activities that they're involved in; how they're getting along with their family, friends or partners,” Brookman tells SheKnows.
He explains that this is also the time to discuss any medications a student is on and make sure they have enough for the semester. If a student is sexually active, this appointment can serve as a safe space to discuss sexual health and disease prevention and to ask about getting or refilling a birth control prescription.
This physical will also ensure that a student’s immunization record is updated, something most colleges require. Dr. Terez Yonan, an adolescent medicine specialist from the Children’s Hospital Orange County in California, encourages students to get vaccines that aren’t required, including the HPV vaccination (commonly known as Gardasil) and a new vaccination for meningitis type B.
Feeling good in your skin is key to stepping onto campus with confidence. If your college-bound kid is experiencing skin conditions like acne, eczema, dandruff or rashes, make an appointment with a dermatologist to have their skin examined and to make a plan for treatment while they’re away.
(While you’re at it, don’t forget to ask your derm about the signs of bed bugs and how to prevent them!)
Vision & hearing screenings
Don’t wait until your kid sits down in their first lecture for them to realize they can’t see what the professor has scribbled on the board.
“You can get a vision and hearing screen when you come over for a precollege physical,” Yonan tells SheKnows. “If there are any abnormalities, your primary care doctor can recommend that you see an optometrist or a hearing specialist.”
And if your kid already wears glasses or contacts, make sure they have the correct prescription as well as a stockpile of backup lenses.
Who doesn’t want to show up on campus with pearly whites? Scheduling one last dentist appoint allows college-bound students to get any pesky cavities filled or, if necessary, to get their wisdom teeth removed.
This is also an opportunity to speak with the dentist about any retainers or orthodontic treatments they may be receiving along with the options if they experience a dental emergency while at college.
All individuals who are sexually active should be tested for STIs at least once a year, even if they aren’t experiencing symptoms, Brookman explains. This appointment can also serve as a safe space to discuss sexual health and disease prevention.
“It's a good thing to know their status before they go away, and that would include at least one HIV test,” Brookman says. “If something is positive, then we can treat it before they go away to school.”
Speaking with an OB-GYN is wise, especially if your kid is sexually active (or planning to become active), has uncomfortable symptoms or has concerns about their menstrual cycle.
While Pap smears are not required until the age of 21 for generally healthy individuals, Yonan points out that college-age people with a history of autoimmune disease — such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or HIV — should receive Pap smears sooner than the general population.
Mental health screening
The transition to college can at times be an emotionally overwhelming experience. If your kid has been feeling anxious or depressed or you notice signs of attention difficulties, don’t wait until they're already at college to deal with it.
“If someone feels like their problems or symptoms are severe enough with their daily living ability, that's something to bring up with your provider,” Yonan says. “They can give you referrals for therapy but also discuss whether medication would or would not be helpful for your specific kind of symptoms.”
Or if they’re already on an antidepressant or another form of medication, it is important to make sure they have enough refills to get through the semester.
A wrap-up therapy appointment
If a student has already been seeing a mental health professional, Brookman advises they should keep going until the point that they go to college and then develop some kind of a plan with their psychologist for what's going to happen when they are away.
This plan often involves setting up weekly phone or video chat therapy sessions with their current provider or finding a new in-network mental health care provider on or near the campus.
You can’t be too careful when it comes to your university-bound kid moving away from home. While the move to college can be rather unpredictable, a student’s health shouldn’t be.