For five years I worked at GlassHospital’s Student Care Center.
I don’t get no respect, neither.
One of the great things about GlassHospital is that it sits on the campus of a well-known and fairly well-respected former Big Ten university.
Like all colleges and universities, our place acts in loco parentis to the students that grace its campus. This means responsibility for our students’ health and well-being.
I loved working at the Student Care Center. Taking care of 18-22 year-olds and the occasional rowdy MBA student is completely different than the “grown up” patients I usually care for. My grownups frequently suffer from a multitude of chronic medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, or shpilkes. Come to think of it, shpilkes is really the only affliction of the college-aged.
That and crabs.
One of the dirty little secrets of working in a place like Student Care is that if you work the morning shift, you have a lot of time in between patients since most college kids are busy “studying” all morning. Things tend to get much busier in the afternoon when the patients are actually awake.
For some reason, college health centers almost invariably have terrible reputations. Students love to badmouth the place. I know I did when I was a student. One perpetual legend is about how Mom and Dad get the billing statement from the student health center, and it always has a pregnancy test charge, even when the presenting complaint is “sore elbow.” This occurs especially if the patient is male.
It’s fun for the students to complain about the health center, just like they do about the cafeteria, the administration, and, if you live in Chicago, the weather.
But as my colleague Dr. Alex Lickerman points out, students don’t know how good they have it.
College health advocates like to say that college is a formative time in which healthy habits can be achieved for a lifetime of wellness. My roommate from medical school, who now runs a college health service at an elite eastern institution, describes it as having the opportunity to “get ‘em where they are.”
By this, he means that when students come in with fears about STDs real or imagined, he preaches not only about safe sex and sexual health, but emboldens the students to think about more prosaic health habits for the rest of their lives. Like not picking up smoking, as a major example. With students, the die is not yet cast.
Working in student care, it was always interesting to try to find the transition point for students between Mom & Dad calling the shots [“You should go to the doctor … Did you go to the doctor? … What did the doctor say?”] to some form of graduated independence … like actually taking responsibility for health and other behaviors. Some of the firsts on the long road toward maturity.
John Schumann is an internal medicine physician at the University of Chicago who blogs at GlassHospital.
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