A Summer Assignment
College kids need a physical, too, and now's a good time
Note to parents of college students home for the summer: Sometime during these jampacked weeks of job demands and friends, you may want to schedule a nice long visit with the doctor.
When the kids aren't sleeping, they may seem too brimming with health to bother. But many young adultshaving outgrown the pediatrician without graduating to a new doctorare getting no preventive care, and experts say they badly need it. Consider: Nearly half of full-time college students binge drink, use prescription drugs recreationally, or abuse illegal drugs each month, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. One in 7 young adults reports having experienced a serious mental illness such as depression in the past year, finds a data review by Jane Park, a researcher in the division of adolescent medicine at the University of California-San Francisco school of medicine. Fourteen percent of students surveyed by the American College Health Association admitted using withdrawal as their method of birth control the last time they had sex; 12 percent of women said they sought emergency contraception in the previous school year.
Yes, students will find the campus health center or their local ER when they sprain an ankle or suffer from alcohol poisoning. But there's a risk in going years without comprehensive healthcare at this age, says Claire Brindis, director for health policy at UCSF. Brindis would prescribe a comprehensive annual exam (and suggests getting an appointment early in the summer, in case any follow-up care is needed). Unnoticed- and untreated-problems like anxiety, an eating disorder, or substance abuse can kill, or at the very least wreak havoc with school performance. Of the top 10 reasons students in the ACHA survey gave for their grades dropping, more than half were related to their physical or mental health.
Why suffer? "I don't want to feel that bad for that long ever again," says Seth Kester-Irwin, a rising sophomore at Davidson College in North Carolina who went almost all the first semester with a sinus infection that pushed him to the brink of misery. Finally, at home in Berkeley, Calif., over winter break, he saw a doctor and got a prescription. Kester-Irwin realizes now that he should have known better than to wait: His dad is a physician.
The physical your grown child needs will be quite different from what either a younger child or an older adult would expect to haveand considerably more detailed than the cursory exam, plus vaccinations, required before heading to campus. So it's a good idea to ask a few questions before deciding on a doctor. Experts recommend looking for a style of practice that openly addresses sexually transmitted diseases, mental health, substance abuse, tobacco use, and daredevil behavior. "They're not at risk for heart attack or cancer in large numbers like older adults, but they're at risk for consequences of psycho-social behavior," says David Bell, medical director of the Young Men's Clinic at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University.