Monday, September 24, 2018

College Checklist for Students with Chronic Diseases

Plan Now to Make Campus Life Easier

By William C. “Chad” Whitley, MD 
Pediatric resident physician in his second year at The University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School
Member, Texas Medical Association

Many students have settled in on their college campus for the fall semester. This can be a particularly exciting and stressful time of the year, especially for those who just left home for the first time. For students with chronic disease or a disability, getting prepared for school is more than buying school supplies and dorm room décor: For many, this is the first time they are asserting more independence in all aspects of their life. Not only does this mean doing their own laundry, but also taking medications, making doctor visits, navigating a new campus, and having sick days in a new place.

Although it sounds like a scary change, there are many ways students can have a smooth transition to college. Whether you are a freshman, or an upperclassman still trying to work things out, these recommendations can help you worry less and enjoy the college experience more.

First, find a doctor. The transition from pediatric to adult medicine is far from perfect, so talk to your doctor to help with this process. See if your current physician knows a trusted colleague near your new campus, and ask for recommendations and referrals as soon as possible. Often students can get routine medical care and urgent care at campus health centers. However, specialty care will typically be off campus, so keep that in mind when searching for new doctors. Once you have found a new doctor, try to have your physician send your past medical records before your first visit, to avoid delay in medical care.

Students at The University of Texas chat between classes.
Find a pharmacy. Almost as important as finding a doctor is finding a pharmacy. Make sure you find a pharmacy that you can easily access and has hours that fit your schedule. Take note of the nearest 24/7 pharmacy as well for any emergencies that may arise during off-hours.

Know your resources. Don’t be a stranger to your academic advisor and ombudsman. They are some of your go-to people on campus when it comes to knowing what is available to make your life easier, as well as your rights as a student. Ask the student services department what, if any, modifications you may qualify to receive. For example, students might qualify for priority registration to fit classes around popular appointment times, medication schedules, or meal times. Set up an appointment with your school’s student disability office for further assistance with things such as contacting professors regarding modifications related to the classroom/testing environment. For students that will need specialty parking or access permits, a call to campus parking and transportation will also likely be helpful.

Have a plan. Plan for the best and prepare for the worst in the event you have an emergency. Reach out to those close to you and make sure they are informed about how to help you if needed. Important people to make aware include roommates, resident and community advisors, as well as anyone else you will be spending a lot of time with. Most cell phones allow you to input a medical ID with emergency contacts as well as diagnoses and medications. Make sure to discuss sick-day protocol with your doctor and have any emergency/rescue medications available and easily located so you can find them when needed.

Get involved. Reaching out to community groups can be a great way to connect with people with whom you can learn and collaborate. Many local branches of national organizations including, but not limited to, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the American Heart Association, and the Lupus Foundation of America often have great networking, support, and volunteer opportunities. Take advantage of events where you can meet mentors who have walked in your shoes. Then perhaps give back by being a role model for someone younger and less experienced at balancing life and chronic illness. Not only can volunteering look great on a resume, for many it can be therapeutic and extremely gratifying.

Although this is a general guide and only scratches the surface, hopefully it can help you, your doctor, and your school prep you as you transition to college life. It’s never too early to prepare, or too late to see what opportunities you can discover. With some preparation and hard work, you might find that managing your health through the rollercoaster of college can be a very rewarding experience.

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