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June 06, 2018

Ask a Nurse Practitioner: Dr. Joyce Knestrick

Joyce Knestrick, PhD, CRNP, FAANP

While generally considered an enjoyable and enlightening few years, college can be a stressful time for both students and for parents as students take their health into their own hands. Fortunately, Dr. Joyce Knestrick has some insight for students and experience for parents sending their kids off to college.

What do students need to know before getting to campus?

Universities tend to make their own rules for student health requirements, but many will have similar requirements: that students have certain immunizations and medical records up to date, that students have proof of a physical exam in the last year, and that students list all medication they currently take or possible allergies. Students and parents should check with schools to see what health documents they need, and double check immunization requirements (and exemptions) by state, as well as recommended immunizations for college-age adults from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s also a good idea to know where the student health center is on campus, and to find an off-campus nurse practitioner in case the student center is closed (or during emergencies).

Regardless of where students get care, their primary provider should be part of the conversation. Student health centers or off-campus providers can provide updates to your primary care provider, and vice versa. Lack of coordination between temporary and primary care providers could lead to unintended consequences.

Are there any insurance issues students should be aware of?

All students are required to have health insurance under the ACA (just like everyone is). If students are still on their parents’ insurance plan and going to school in another state, they should check with their insurer that the plan still works where they are going. If students are getting their own plan, they should find one that works best where they’re going to school. Either way, they should also make sure to find an off-campus provider who accepts that insurance. To learn more, visit Healthcare.gov’s page on student health.

How can students prepare to study abroad?

Health care can vary significantly between countries. Before going overseas, any American – but especially students – should do their research. It’s important to know what the health care system is like in the country or region you’re traveling to. How much does it cost? Is your insurance accepted? Do you need insurance? Where’s the nearest hospital? Are there any health risks – like endemic diseases – to be vaccinated against? What medications are allowed into or banned from the country? These are all things students going abroad should know before they even go to the airport. The U.S. State Department has a helpful list for Your Health Abroad.

What should student athletes know?

Student athletes have a particular need to stay healthy – their teammates (and their scholarships, in some cases) depend on their ability to play. Proper equipment use, following safety protocols, and of course, eating right and getting plenty of rest are important for student athletes. The NCAA has some helpful resources for student athletes to keep their health in good order.

Those participating in college sports should also know about insurance requirements for participating. While the ACA theoretically allows students to pay a fine instead of being insured, athletic programs or organizations (like the NCAA) might require student athletes to have insurance in order to practice, train, or participate in any way.

Where can students learn more about living healthy on campus?

The “freshman fifteen,” or weight gain for college students, isn’t a total myth. Stress, lack of sleep, poor diet, and too much partying can lead to weight gain, but they can also lead to far more serious health issues like high blood pressure or anxiety. Students should try to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and cut out some junk food, get enough sleep, drink enough water, and manage their time in order to mitigate stress from having to do too much work at once. Students and their parents can learn more about staying healthy on campus from the CDC, NIMH, NIDA, NIAAA, and of course your local NP.