College & Chronic Illness: Coordinating New Medical Care
I received an excellent question that has been popping up a lot lately:
I was wondering if you had any advice about managing medical care when you’re starting college? I’m really concerned about how I’ll fit all my appointments into my schedule with school this fall. I’m looking for almost completely new doctors due to a major move and will be moving again for college. Do you think I should look for doctors near my school, near home, or somewhere in between? I’m worried about transportation since I can’t drive, but I also don’t want to settle for subpar care.
This is understandably perhaps the biggest concern for many students with chronic conditions who want to go away to school, and certainly for parents of students as well.
So I have a ton of advice here:
1. Do the legwork:
- Before you go away to school, start researching local clinics and doctors in the area (click to read about how to find a great physician). Call them up and schedule appointments ASAP, and if you can arrive at your new school a bit early, try to see them before your classes start OR early in the semester when the work load is a little lighter.
- Register with your student Disability Office. Every college has one, they’re all called something different. Mine is called the Student Disability Resource Center. SDRC’s help students coordinate the in’s and out’s of a full time schedule/details while managing a disability. When you register with them, they will likely provide you with various accommodations. One of those accommodations can be excused absences from classand extended deadlines on assignments if you need to see a physician in the middle of the semester. You can read more about SDRC’s and what you need to do to register here and here.
- Communication is Key! Believe it or not, most professors really do care. Establishing communication with them early on will be a huge help when you have to miss class for medical-reasons. With the right SDRC documentation and proper professor etiquette, you will not be penalized for missing a class due to medical appointments! Read that link on navigating the professor-student interaction, anon. Half the battle is finding great professors.
- Smart Scheduling: one of the things you might want to try to do is have one or two days each week be your ‘easy’ days—days where you have less classes and more time to get other things done (i.e., medical appointments). When you register for classes, keep this in mind. I would also talk to your school’s SDRC about priority registration—this lets you register early so that you have access to all of the times and buildings available before seats are taken. Usually, freshman are the last people to register…which means less ideal scheduling.
- Best of both worlds (can you hear me singing Hannah Montana here? Because I am, I assure you).When I first transitioned to FSU, I made sure I had a team of doctors at home and a team of doctors here in Tallahassee. Now that I stay in Tallahassee during the summer (and no longer venture 7 hours south), I will be transitioning out of the care of most of my specialists back home. Different things will work for different people, but I would recommend keeping appointments when you go home on holiday breaks with your current doctors, as well as establishing new medical teams.
- Holiday breaks are going to change. Schedule your medical appointments during them. Get labs done, imaging studies done, any diagnostic testing, etc. It’s annoying to spend 4 days over spring break in a clinic while your friends are posting pictures of excessive alcohol consumption and beautiful beaches, but it is helpful. If it gets you down, remember to treat yourself. Self care is important, so if a vacation opportunity arises, take the vacation instead.
2. Things to consider:
- Is your university affiliated with a research hospital? If yes, utilize this!
- Is your university in the middle of nowhere/far from major hospitals or specialists? If yes, consider whether or not driving an hour or two to see a physician with more resources is worth it to you.
- University health clinics are fantastic…but probably not fantastic for managing a chronic disease. It’s great for little things or if you really just need a note to verify an absence, but find a specialist you like.
- It might be tough at first. Remember that it takes time to build a support network. Don’t beat yourself up if it’s not happening “fast enough” or like you see in the movies. That’s not real life! Give yourself time.
If you want to email me personally with the name of the school you are looking at attending, I might be able to point you to more specific resources (and would be happy to do so for any of you).
I will probably continue to add to this, but hopefully this helps. This is a major FAQ, so if there’s something else you’d like to see added, please message me or send me an email: email@example.com