UK HealthCare

While Planning for College, Prepare for Good Health

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 25, 2011) — The following health column appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader on Sunday, April 24. 

While Planning for College, Prepare for Good Health

By Dr. Ann Hays

With high school graduation coming up, college-bound students and their families will soon begin planning in earnest for college enrollment this fall. While they shop for dorm room supplies and register for classes, new college students should also take a moment to plan for a healthy start to their new lifestyle.

When packing for college, students and their parents should remember to include up-to-date copies of students' immunization records, copies of all health insurance information, and a document with the contact information of their home physician, along with any known medical conditions, drug allergies, and a list of current medications and dosages.

A first aid kit is also important. A basic college first aid kit should include items for wound care – bandages, antiseptic and antibiotic ointment – as well as a digital thermometer, hand sanitizer, a pain reliever/fever reducer such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, an antihistamine for allergic reactions like diphenhydramine, loratadine or cetirizine, and an anti-itch cream like hydrocortisone.

Some families take this idea a step further and pack a cold and flu kit that should include the items above along with tissues, antibacterial wipes for disinfecting household surfaces, cough syrup containing Guaifenesin and dextromethorphan, and their choice of stomach medications for heartburn, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Gatorade or a similar sports drink, soup mixes and bottled water might also be included and can help the student recover from GI illnesses, sore throats or the flu.

Also before coming to college, incoming students need to make sure their immunizations are up-to-date. The CDC (Center for Disease Prevention and Control) recommends that college students receive meningococcal vaccine, Tdap (tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis) and the HPV (human papillomavirus vaccine) series in addition to their routine childhood immunizations including Hepatitis A and B, polio, MMR, varicella, and pneumococcal vaccine. Students should also plan on getting a seasonal influenza vaccine each fall to protect them from the flu. Parents and students also might want to check for any special vaccine requirements specific to their college, university, or field of study.

Most colleges and universities have some sort of health service available to students. Services can range from a nurse-run clinic to a fully staffed ambulatory care clinic with multiple physicians, nurse practitioners and counselors. The University of Kentucky Health Service clinic is fully staffed with 12 physicians, 6 nurse practitioners, 10 nurses, 2 health educators and a nutritionist, and offers an array of preventive, acute and mental health services to students.

Parents and students will want to familiarize themselves with the particular services available at their college health service, along with the facility’s location and contact information, ideally prior to enrollment. Every year, some students become ill soon after arriving on campus, and if they are already familiar with how to seek health care on campus it will be easier for them to obtain the treatment they need.

While preparing for college, it is important that students and parents plan for good health. Illness can derail a student's academic progress, and make for a tough time away from home. By avoiding illness when possible, and preparing to deal with it when it does make an appearance, families can breathe easy knowing that they are prepared to handle any medical concerns that should arise while their student is away at school.

Dr. Ann Hays is clinic director of the University Health Service at the University of Kentucky.