Remi Gill, a broadcast-journalism major at Spelman College in Atlanta, found many reasons to visit the student health center during her first two years. Although she's healthy--having experienced nothing more serious than a cold--Gill visited the center at least eight times. "I go for everything from Pap smears to cold medicine," she says.
The regularity of Gill's visits may surprise students from earlier generations, who wouldn't have dreamed of visiting the infirmary unless dire circumstances prevented them from seeing the family doctor. But in recent decades, campus health centers have been transformed from bleak sick bays for students with mononucleosis or pneumonia to cheery wellness centers that provide more comprehensive services than hometown primary-care facilities. They can also accommodate students with chronic illnesses like diabetes who are now going to school in record numbers thanks to new drugs.
At a minimum, most schools, as always, offer on-staff nurses and doctors who provide routine checkups and treat minor illnesses. Medical emergencies like broken bones still require a trip to a local hospital. Typically, students can make an appointment or drop by during daily walk-in hours. Most schools charge a mandatory annual fee that entitles students to unlimited visits. This doesn't replace basic health insurance, so students must cover the cost of prescriptions and lab tests, as well as visits to outside doctors during school breaks. But some schools do make extra services available at a discount, such as routine gynecological exams and contraceptives.
Larger schools offer appointments with specialists. UCLA provides physical ther-apy and acupuncture; the University of Florida provides dermatology services, and the University of Maryland offers dentistry. Even smaller schools can list a spectrum of programs, like nutrition counseling and safe-sex clinics, and workshops on stress management and alcohol use. Schools often emphasize STD awareness and furnish anonymous HIV testing. Confidentiality reigns, which typically means parents aren't privy to their child's records unless the student has agreed otherwise.
Luckily, for students like Gill, campus physicians are likely to have a special interest in the needs of young people. That especially includes an understanding of the rigors of college. "If students are healthy, they'll meet their academic goals," says Michelle Pearson of UCLA's Student Health and Wellness Center. Sounds like a pretty good prescription.