College students get sick a lot; dorm conditions, all-nighters and late weekends all contribute to an environment that breeds diseases. It is almost a proverbial rite of passage to get mononucleosis at some point during freshmen year.
American University’s answer to the myriad of other collegiate contagions is the Student Health Center. Lauded on tours as an equivalent to a mother’s love and homemade chicken noodle soup, the Student Health Center may be adequately depicted as a more expensive WebMD.
It is widely accepted among students that the Student Health Center is a waste of time. You go hoping for help with a medical problem you haven’t been able to solve by already resting and drinking more fluids, but always leave asking yourself why you just spent 30 minutes and $20 to get little answers or help. However, time and time again you return, only to leave disappointed every single time.
The most common treatment recommended by the Student Health Center (according to my informal and unscientific survey of friends) is rest and drink lots of fluids. Whether it is fevers, coughs, colds, sore throats, headaches, nausea or anything short of a severe flesh wound, this simple treatment is recommended with the occasional prescription for antibiotics, just to be safe.
According to Dan Bruey, the director of the Student Heath Center, the SHC, “re-evaluate[s] our services every year and make changes as appropriate.”
The Student Health Center also features the Student Health Advisory Committee, which is supposed to help facilitate feedback and change. But like many student government organizations, it doesn’t seem to enact changes that are felt by the students at large.
Students resort to having their hometown doctors send prescriptions to CVS, friends provide long-distance treatment or parents who are doctors intervene. In the rare instance where a medical visit is needed, going to the Sibley ER is preferred to going to a pseudo-doctor’s office.
That is not to say that the Student Health Center doesn’t provide important gynecological, psychiatric and medical care. There are around 14,000 visits to the Student Health Center each year, and the Center is accredited by the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care, which is certainly a testament to the improvement that has been made.
But something is still severely lacking. Bruey notes that the Center is designed to replace a primary care physician, but the services provided are simply not enough.
A mixture of nurses, physician assistants and others staff the Student Health Center. Yet the glaring hole is the fact that there is only one M.D. working at the Student Health Center (who shares time in an administrative role). That is not to diminish the skills, training and expertise of the health professionals who work at the Health Center, but there is undoubtedly a functional difference between an M.D. and a nurse or physician assistant. The Georgetown University Student Health Center has six doctors on staff, while George Washington has 10, including two adolescent fellows who are doctors.
Simply put, the American University Student Health Center is not up to par with what one would hope a college health center would be. Georgetown and GW’s health centers are open on Saturdays, while American University’s is not (as if students only are sick during the school week). There is a certain minimum standard of care that is not being provided — and should be — by AU’s Health Center.
The American University Student Health Center’s reputation precedes itself. I recently saw a dermatologist located near AU regarding an abscess, and both the dermatologist and nurse strongly criticized the Health Center for prescribing me antibiotics before cultures were done, and continued to bemoan other instances where the Health Center failed to provide adequate and proper medical care.
The common-sense medical procedures like running tests before prescribing antibiotics or running cultures in addition to rapid-step tests are nowhere to be found at the Student Health Center. The fact that other doctors are aware of the AU Student Health Center’s reputation is shocking and frankly embarrassing.
What is the purpose of having a Student Health Center without the capability of providing any level of care beyond what can be completed by a pre-med major or maybe even the avid viewer of “Grey’s Anatomy” on your floor?
Students know when they are sick, and they do not go to the Student Health Center to simply be told that they are sick. They deserve a medical option other than an ER that will provide them with thorough and accurate diagnosis, as well as effective treatment.
Sam Mendelson is a freshman in the School of International Service.