Primary Care 101 for the College Freshman

What You Need to Know About Primary Care When Your Child Goes to College

Sending a child off to college is a big change for any family. Amid all the tuition payments and searching out the best roommate, students and parents can easily forget to think about what this transition means for your child’s relationship with a primary care provider (PCP).

Most college freshmen are in their late teen years, so families may struggle with whether to maintain the existing relationship with a child’s pediatrician for a few more years, or if it’s time for your young adult to find an internist or family medicine doctor. And, if your child does look for a new doctor, should it be on-campus or closer to home?

South Shore Medical Center pediatrician Jeremy Warhaftig, MD, says that he often advises his patients and their parents to maintain a relationship with a doctor at home, whether it’s with a pediatrician or a doctor that sees adult patients.

“With so many other changes happening when my patients go off to college, I want them and their parents to know they have someone in their corner, especially with the varied levels of care available at colleges and universities. Whether they continue to see me when they’re home on break or transfer to another doctor closer to campus, I want to support young adults as they take charge of their own healthcare,” says Dr. Warhaftig.

While all universities aim to provide the best possible care to students, parents will find that schools are equipped differently, and address different needs.

There are two ways colleges and universities typically provide healthcare for students: large on-campus medical centers that function like a small hospital, with several primary care providers on staff; or the more common smaller health clinic, which is staffed by one or two doctors supported by nurse practitioners that provides routine services only, such as the ability to diagnose and treat minor illnesses, minor injuries, and may prescribe contraceptives.

With these smaller health clinics being the most common type of university health center, students who travel both near and far from the South Shore would be wise to maintain a relationship with a primary care provider at home.

Here are some steps to keep your college student healthy:

  1. Take care of well visits while at home. While it can seem frustrating to see doctor while home on break, well-visits are the foundation of good health. Whether you choose to keep your pediatrician or opt for an adult provider, book the appointments well in advance of summer or Thanksgiving break.
  2. Have your child sign up for South Shore MyChartSouth Shore Health’s online patient portal enables all patients to have access to their medical information whenever they need it, from wherever they are—including a far-flung college campus. (If your child already has a MyChart account, he or she will have to reapply for access once he or she turns 18.)
  3. Seek age-appropriate care. Once your child turns 21, they should ask their pediatrician to recommend an Internal or Family Medicine doctor.
  4. Use us as a resource. As always, seek care immediately and locally in an emergency. But if a patient is away at college and has a question or concern, they may call their PCP at South Shore Medical Center to get advice, or communicate with them through MyChart.

With a little preparation today, your college student can look forward to a healthy freshman year!

To learn more about our primary care team, click here.