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When They’re Off to College

Healthcare Tips for Students and Parents

This month, many teens are heading to college. Part of this transition means college-bound students will take over management of their own healthcare. To be sure they know which steps to take, this information will come in handy.  

Forms and the pre-college health visit

Once you accept an offer of admission, you’ll receive electronically or by mail much information to process and many forms to be completed. This will include information about health requirements and forms for documentation of health status, including immunizations, medications, and allergies. Each college has its own unique forms and specific requirements. You may need some help from your healthcare provider and current school to gather everything that is needed.

Schedule a visit with your primary healthcare provider. Bring the college health forms you receive in the mail or download them from the college’s website and complete your portion of the forms before your health visit. Bring a copy of your immunization records; you can obtain a copy from your high school or pediatrician as your primary care provider may not have all of your immunization records on file. Bring a list of all medications you take, and determine what prescription refills or new prescriptions you will need before you leave for college.

What you should take with you to college

Document your health history, including a list of medications you take and your known allergies. You should also have a list of emergency contacts and how to reach them, along with names and contact information for your primary care provider, dentist, and any other specialists who continue to provide care. If you have a chronic condition such as diabetes, asthma, seizures, ADHD, or depression, write down an emergency plan for any complications.

Be sure to take your personal health insurance card, prescription card, and related information. You may be covered under your family’s plan or you may purchase a plan through your college. Students should be aware of their health insurance status. 

If you take medication every day, take a supply for at least thirty days with you and have a plan to get refills – either sent from home or
from a pharmacy near your college. Be sure to stock a standard supply of non-prescription medications you’re likely to use: ibuprofen, vitamins, menstrual pain relief, etc. 

Once you are there, what you should locate

When you’re on campus, locate the student health center and know their hours and what services are available. It’s also a good idea to locate the student counseling offices. You should also be aware of the following: the nearest pharmacy you’re likely to use; the nearest urgent care facility or hospital in case you need emergency care; local specialists you may need to see, such as an endocrinologist or psychiatrist. Depending on your health challenges, you might also need to identify a secure place and method for storing your medications.

Special focus for students with chronic health problems

There are challenges for students with chronic health problems when they go to college away from home. It’s important to discuss and have a plan for the following before you go:

• The need to navigate new and unfamiliar health systems.

• The absence of parents to make appointments, interpret your symptoms, or help manage your medications.

• Possible changes in your daily routine, which may complicate medication and treatment schedules. For example, class schedules may be different on different days of the week.

• The possibility that academic, recreational, and/or social opportunities might conflict with medical appointments and the importance of giving priority to medical care to ensure continued good health.

Final note to parents: Talk to your children! 

This month, college students and their parents or other trusted adults should review and discuss information about how to stay safe and healthy away from the comforts of home. And there are many things to cover. Topics include, but are not limited to: sleep, hygiene, smoking, alcohol and other substance use, good decision-making regarding relationships and sexual activity, birth control, sexual assault, and maintaining mental health. 

Though this seems like a lot of information, any conversation you have now will be useful in the long run. And studies have shown that despite how it might appear to the average parent, most kids are listening. 

For additional support:

– Center for Disease Control and Prevention at
– American Academy of Pediatrics at

Richard Brookman, MD, is an adolescent medicine physician at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. Dr. Brookman and his wife live in Henrico and have two adult daughters and two grandchildren. He volunteers rescuing cats and keeps his mind and fingers agile playing the piano and solving difficult crossword puzzles.
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