Extra long twin sheets, a new computer, a load of textbooks…your teen has everything they need for college, right? Not so fast. As your college-bound son or daughter prepares to head off for four years away from home, make sure they’re equipped with the health information they need should an emergency arise.
“For many teenagers, this is the first time they’ll be living on their own. Whereas before they’ve depended on their parents to be the guiding hand when it comes to health care and dealing with illness or emergency, this is the first time they’ll be taking responsibility for their health,” says Levelle Drose-Bigatel, MD, family practice physician at Main Line HealthCare Family Medicine in Westtown and Paoli Hospital.
Unfortunately, sending your college-bound student off with their insurance card and a pack of band-aids won’t do the trick. Below, Dr. Drose-Bigatel offers some tips for making sure your child is prepared to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to their health.
Make an appointment
At age 18, some teenagers are still seeing their pediatrician. The summer before college is the perfect time to transition them to a primary care physician who may make them feel more comfortable asking age-appropriate questions about their health. If your child will be attending college far from home, it may be beneficial to have them find a physician close to school, as well. This way, they’ll have a relationship with a physician in the area for referrals and appointments.
Although most schools make vaccinations a mandatory part of living on campus, it's worth repeating that the summer before college is an important time to make sure your student is up to date on vaccinations for meningitis, tetanus, and pertussis. This may also be the time to discuss getting the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for your son or daughter, which can guard against cervical cancer and protect sexually active men and women from more than 100 different types of HPV. Learn more about the HPV vaccine.
Know your health history
By the time they're in their teens, most people are well-versed in their health history and can speak to any allergies, medications, and their personal medical history. Still, it doesn't hurt to make sure you talk to your teen about prevalent health issues in your family's history, like diabetes, heart disease, or cancer, as doctors often inquire about those, as well.
Build a first aid kit
Not every injury or illness your child encounters at college will require a visit to the campus health center. As you begin back-to-school shopping, don't forget to purchase a first aid kit so your student can handle little emergencies on their own. Include items like a thermometer, bandages, gauze, scissors, medical tape, tweezers, antibacterial cream, rubbing alcohol, and basic over-the-counter medications.
Talk to your teen
It may sound cliché, but it's true. College can present some health concerns for teenagers that they may not have encountered before, including conversations about how to manage stress, alcohol consumption, depression and anxiety, lack of sleep, or contraception. During conversations or visits home, make a point to ask how your student is feeling, and pay attention to verbal and non-verbal cues that may allude to health concerns. Creating an open, judgement-free dialogue with your son or daughter can increase the likelihood that they'll come to you with questions or concerns about their health.
Main Line Health primary care physicians are dedicated to treating the entire family—from infants and children to adults. Our primary care physicians have offices in many convenient locations throughout the community, and many offer same-day appointments for your convenience. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.