College students with chronic conditions need a plan

Not all colleges can care for students with chronic conditions. Take steps to stay healthy at college if you have a chronic condition.

Take steps to stay healthy at college if you have a chronic condition.
Take steps to stay healthy at college if you have a chronic condition.

Parents and students visit college campuses in search of the one meeting their criteria, but few may consider an onsite health center as being important for their college experience. Onsite health centers are especially important for students with a chronic disease such as diabetes. Gauging whether or not the health center is equipped to handle a chronic disease, such as diabetes, is also important. Survey results published in Pediatrics showed only half of the 153 college health center directors reported that their health center could care for a student with a chronic condition such as diabetes.

Together parents and students should prepare for health emergencies and make a plan to keep students healthy while living at college. The Center for Young Women’s Health at Boston Children’s Hospital provides gender-neutral tips to make the college experience safer and healthier when a student is managing a chronic illness.

Michigan State University Extension has the following suggestions for students with a chronic disease preparing for college. 

  • Check out what type of health care services are available at each school.Michigan State University’s Olin Health Center urges incoming students to schedule an appointment with one of its doctors the first week of school. The physician will work with the student’s primary doctor and can refer students to specialists near campus if needed. The college’s health clinic will help in the transferring of prescriptions and get needed laboratory tests.
  • Visit the school’s office of disability services. Michigan State University’s Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities began in 1971. Incoming students should register with the center as soon as possible to prevent a delay in accommodations if they’re needed. Disability services can link students with condition-specific support groups on campus or in the area.
  • Create a care plan prior to going to college, and schedule follow up appointments during breaks. Students and doctors should work together to create a disease management plan that the student can follow while living on campus.
  • Share health condition and what to do in an emergency with people who can help. A roommate, professor or resident advisor can be helpful when not feeling well. Talk with professors at the beginning of the semester to address concerns about missing class.
  • Verify your health coverage and make sure your college’s health clinic accepts your insurance. Students and parents should discuss how non-covered health-related costs will be paid.
  • Follow good health practices. Eat regular, nutritious meals. The university food service provides a variety of meal choices for students. Exercise by taking advantage of the workout facilities on campus, work to find balance between social activities and assignments, and do not forget sleep! Try to get at least seven hours of sleep a night.

These steps can be followed regardless of the college an incoming student attends. When there’s a plan to maintain health, students will enjoy and get the most out of their college years. Michigan State University Extension offers disease management and prevention workshops throughout Michigan. For more information on a local workshop, search the MSU Extension events page.

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