A healthy body fuels a healthy mind. A radical change in environment - such as leaving home to live on campus - and other stressors can make students vulnerable to many ailments.
|Walter White, director of Student Health Services, says his staff diligently works to guide UAB students to make healthy decisions, “and have seen much success in this area.”
Student Health Services exists to help with these maladies, providing preventive care, treatment and counseling for students.
Walter White, M.D., has been a physician at SHS since 1999 and recently became its director. He has many goals for SHS, and one of his top priorities is encouraging college-age students to have their own primary-care physician to help them through these struggles.
"One prevailing myth for this age group is that young people don't need a physician, and that couldn't be further from the truth," White says.
"We regularly diagnose and treat hypertension, lipid disorders, asthma and migraines. Our health-care providers have diagnosed more serious problems -including multiple sclerosis and thyroid cancer. There are many health issues unique to the student population. Therefore, Student Health is in many ways a primary-care subspecialty. I think it's important for young, healthy people to have their own physician."
SHS provides a variety of health services. The most common ailments are respiratory illnesses (i.e. asthma, allergy, colds), emotional issues (depression, anxiety), dermatologic issues and women's health issues. Faculty, staff and students are encouraged to visit www.uab.edu/studenthealth for more information on SHS.
White spoke to the UAB Reporter about his goals for SHS and actions faculty and staff can undertake to educate students about the role SHS can play in their health care.
Q: How has the transition been for you and the division since you became director a year ago?
A: It's been challenging and fun. We've been fortunate enough to recruit some exceptional people in key positions at Student Health.
For example, we've added a new board-certified family physician with 15 years of experience in private practice. Other additions include a women's health nurse practitioner, who also is a registered dietician.
Q: How has the role of Student Health Services changed now that more of UAB's student body lives on campus?
A: Our staff has to be more aware of potential risks of diseases that are associated with this age group. For example, nationwide statistics show that freshmen living in dormitories are at a higher risk for contracting meningococcal meningitis. Even though the risk of that is very low, we have to remain aware of the fact and be diligent with preventive efforts. Each fall we offer the meningococcal vaccine with an all-day program held at Hill University Center. All students can participate in this program, and we especially recommend it for any freshman who lives in campus housing.
Q: What challenges does SHS face as the campus continues to evolve?
A: We have to be aware of the individual needs of each patient as well as the health needs of the campus as a whole. UAB is becoming a traditional campus, and our delivery of medical care has to evolve also. I would like to see us providing medical care for the entire campus and to do that our facility eventually may need to move to a more central campus location. I also would like to see us function more as an open access, urgent care center/family practice clinic in the future.
Q: What are your goals for shaping the campus efforts in health and wellness for the student body?
A: Our patient population is constantly making decisions - good and bad - that will affect their health for the rest of their lives. Decisions regarding drug use, smoking, sexual practices, exercise and eating habits are among these. We diligently work to guide our students to make healthy decisions and have seen much success in this area.
Q: What are some current health and wellness needs SHS is managing?
A: An area that comes to mind is disease prevention. We administer and monitor various campus vaccine requirements and screen for coronary artery disease risk factors. Campus health and wellness issues are best addressed by caring for the individual. Availability is key, which is why we currently have plans to expand our already generous acute care walk-in hours.
Q: How important is it to maintain clinic hours and interact with the student body?
A: It is vital. The best way I can keep my finger on the pulse of campus-health issues is to see patients. I always encourage feedback from my patients regarding our services. Several policies here have been changed as a result of patient suggestions.
Q: Are there any procedures faculty and staff should know about if they need to send a student to SHS for care or any advice they should give them about seeking care?
A: UAB Students are not necessarily SHS participants. Several programs on campus require participation with us: medical, dental, optometry and international students are among these groups. The rest of the campus participates on a voluntary basis.
Participating requires students to pay a per-semester student-health fee. This is a great deal for most students in that it entitles them to unlimited office visits with no co-pay. Also, faculty and staff can encourage students to visit our Web site at www.uab.edu/studenthealth to learn more.