Physical exams are habitual, survey says

By Kimberly Drelich

78 percent of University of Chicago students have had a physical within the past two years, according to the 2004 Student Health Assessment Survey. In a university that has no medical exam requirements after students have presented proof of immunizations, some consider this number to be high, and to possibly reflect students’ involvement in sports and jobs that require health forms.

Without the College forcing students to get yearly check-ups, some students simply skip them. “I didn’t go this year, because the school doesn’t require a physical and it would have been difficult to schedule this summer without taking off from work,” said Monica Groat, a second-year in the College. “I also didn’t need any shots this year—I keep track of that and the school does also.”

Many college students also find themselves in the awkward position of feeling too old for their pediatricians or family doctors, but have not yet found physicians of their own. “I had a family doctor, but I just turned 21, so I need to get a new one,” said Albert Monegro, a fourth-year in the College. Without a doctor, many students rely on the Student Care Center (SCC)—or hope that their ailments go away without medical attention. “I should have gone this year because I had a cough that didn’t go away, but I just waited it out,” Monegro said.

However, jobs, sports teams, and study abroad can force college students to get regular physicals. “I need to get a check-up for my yearly swim season,” explained Gabe Bugajski, a first-year in the College. “But if no one told me I had to get one, I wouldn’t go unless I felt like I needed one.”

Health care forms for jobs also cause students to go back to their doctor. “I haven’t used student health care here. Back home I go only if I have a job and they need a health form,” said Helen Zubieta, a fourth-year in the College.

Virginia DePaul, a pediatrician in Evanston, IL, said she notices that many of her patients do not come back for a check-up after high school. “Some of them move on to another doctor, but I think about 50 percent don’t get a physical,” she said. However, she added, college students only need to get a physical every two years. She emphasized that the most important part of her job was providing patients with “anticipatory guidance,” or talking to them about their general health concerns and the problems they might face. “I make sure I give them good care before I cut them loose into the adult world,” DePaul said.

For college students, talking about health concerns and habits may be more important than an actual medical exam. Kelley Carameli, Health Education Specialist at the SCC, explained that students do not necessarily need a yearly physical, but should discuss health issues with a medical professional at least once a year: “Students should check in with their medical care provider annually for a ‘Health Risk Profile’ or assessment, which includes a verbal conversation about the person’s use of or risk for alcohol, tobacco, STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and HIV, nutrition, physical activity, vaccinations, hearing, oral care, height and weight, sunscreen use, etc.”

Students can go to the SCC for this service under the Student Health and Wellness Fee, which the Unversity requires them to pay each quarter. In fact, 68 percent of Chicago students use the SCC as their primary medical facility.

Some students at the University, however, stick to the yearly physical routine with their doctor back home, even though they do not need it for jobs or sports.

“My mom has always taken me to the doctor for every little thing and that kind of rubbed off on me,” explained Christina Socias, a second-year in the College. “So now I always want to make sure everything’s okay. I think for me, at least, it’s a way to be in the know about my health.”