What kind of care do women in college need? They need acute care for viral infections, skin problems, and minor sports-related injuries. They need gynecological care for STD checks, vaginitis, and annual exams. They need preventative care for nutrition, exercise, and safe health practices. But perhaps most of all, what they need (and maybe what they want without knowing it) is reassurance. These are 18-22 year olds, most of them away from home for the first time, and many of them taking care of their health for the first time. Much of what we do in the clinic involves counseling, support, and letting them know that we are there for them and that they’re going to be okay.
Take for example a typical College health patient - a young woman came who comes in extremely anxious. She had just experienced an asthma attack in the student center in which she had had such a severe coughing fit that she ended up vomiting. This embarrassing experience accompanied by her fear over being short of breath caused a panic-like state. After being brought into an exam room and we began by telling her everything was going to be okay. The mere comfort of being in the clinic with myself and the nurses immediately calmed her down and we were able to do a complete exam and take the measures needed to help her out. In addition, we discovered in the history that she had stopped taking her controller asthma medications several days ago and was in the midst of an upper respiratory infeciton. We spent quite a bit of time counseling her on the danger of stopping her daily meds. We also instructed her on actions that she, as an asthmatic needed to be taking in her dorm room and in her daily life to prevent asthma attacks during upper respiratory infections. Finally, we scheduled her for a follow-up appointment in the next 2-3 days (another luxury of college health care!). She left breathing normally, her color returned, and with many thanks to us. It was a satisfying visit not only because we helped stablize her acute condition but because we were able to counsel her on measures that will hopefully stay with her throughout her life. In addition, we were able to establish a point of care and schedule regular follow-up so that we could track her progress and make sure she is doing well. And finally, we were able offer her reassurance that she would be okay and would be well cared for.
College tries to offer young people a home away from home. But when a young woman feels ill or injured or scared, she wants to be with people who will care for her. Short of parents, the college health clinic fills the void of a caretaker. And in addition, we try to prepare them for taking care of themselves, teach them to take their medications, to take care of themselves, and to see a doctor when they need to. Most of all, we tell them that everything is going to be okay.
Blog entry by Anna Booth, MSIV