As college students in the area start another academic year, school health care officials are reminding young people about the importance and benefits of utilizing on-campus health services.
At UC Merced, officials estimate they see about one-third to one-half of the student population throughout a school year. The university has five medical providers, including two physicians, two physician assistants and a nurse practitioner. A registered nurse, a licensed vocational nurse and four medical assistants are also on hand at the student health center.
According to Greg Spurgeon, associate director of Student Health Services at UC Merced, a campus health center is “the provider away from home,” offering primary medical care and support services such as lab testing, prescriptions and over-the-counter medicine.
The top 10 reasons for visits to the student health center at UC Merced during the last school year were: upper respiratory infection, contraception management, sore throats, anxiety, depression, abdominal pain, sports and travel clearance, to go over lab work, urinary tract infections and tuberculosis clearance, according to Student Health Services data.
Spurgeon explained that although students that commute to school are more likely to continue visiting their family’s physician rather than providers at the center, Student Health Services does reach most students through its educational efforts.
“We train 30 student peer educators, and we do a lot of outreach on campus,” Spurgeon said. “The goal with health education is to help students make better decisions regarding their overall health.”
Scott Hennes, director of Student Health Services at California State University, Stanislaus, in Turlock said one of the services’ main objectives is to guide students as they learn to care for themselves. “We see students who are in the transition of mom and dad taking care of them to now having to take care of themselves,” Hennes said.
In a time of transitions and many changes, one of the biggest issues for students is mental health, Hennes said. According to him, many of the student visits to the student health center have to do with anxiety, depression and stress.
To help students through this, Hennes recommends they utilize the campus’ counseling services, and seek information from health educators at the center. Staff is trained to address topics such as mental health awareness, stress management, sexual health and healthy relationships, domestic violence, general nutrition and physical fitness.
UC Merced recently lost its on-site psychiatrist, but the university is working with the Merced County Mental Health Department to expand services to students and make use of telemedicine by connecting through video chats with psychiatrists at other UC campuses, Spurgeon explained.
Both Spurgeon and Hennes said they encourage communication between students and their parents regarding their health, but remind parents that the school cannot disclose their adult child’s medical information without the student’s consent. However, if parents have general questions about services, they can call the school’s student health center, Spurgeon said.
One of the matters brought up by both students and parents is the cost of health services on campus.
Spurgeon explained that students at UC Merced are not charged for primary care services at the center; however, students are required to have health coverage in case outside medical services are needed. Students who don’t already have coverage must purchase insurance through the university.
Stanislaus State does not offer insurance, but most in-house health services are covered through the student health fee, which is paid along with tuition.
But because referrals to outside clinics are sometimes necessary, students are encouraged to obtain health coverage, Hennes said. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Hennes hopes that more students will have coverage, making referrals to specialists more affordable.
“That’s been our biggest hurdle to clear, because a lot of students are not on their parents’ insurance,” Hennes said. “But if they have insurance, then it makes it easier for us to refer them to a specialist, if needed.”