Women’s Health Services on Campus
Regular physicals and other preventative care are essential for the health of all college students. Fortunately, most college campuses provide a robust series of health offerings, many of which are specific to college women.
What schools usually provide
“All student health centers vary, but at most of them you can find licensed primary care clinicians (doctors, nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants),” says Kathleen Pridgen, MD, the Acting Medical Director at University of Alabama Student Health Services.
“While you are a student, particularly if you are distant from home, student health services is the best place to start for a local primary care provider. The clinicians at student health services can provide health counseling, diagnose and treat a broad range of conditions, order laboratory tests and x-rays, and refer to a specialist when appropriate and coordinate care.”
Here’s a further breakdown of what many schools provide:
Women’s Health Services
Part of the overall health services offered by a school, women’s health services focuses on routine health care of female students, including pap smears, pregnancy testing and STI/STD treatment and screening. You can learn more about pregnancy resources on campus in our Pregnancy in College guide.
“As far as contraception, many student health centers offer a wide variety of options and counseling as to which option is the best for a woman’s individual reproductive health needs,” says Dr. Pridgen. “At our clinic, we offer long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) methods, such as IUDs, Nexplanon® and also a wide variety of combined hormonal contraceptives (“the pill,” patch or ring.)
Those working in women’s health centers on campus also have experience treating and counseling women, which can make routine health appointments more comfortable for female students.
Students with special dietary needs can receive advice and counseling from a registered dietitian. Typical services include general nutrition information, advice on nutrition options for specific medical conditions and tailored counseling for students with eating disorders (which includes up to 20 percent of college women).
Psychiatry and Counseling Services
College can take a toll on mental health. Schools recognize that students may need a wide range of mental health treatment options, from simple counseling to psychiatric evaluations and treatment plans.
Many colleges and universities offer peer or group therapy support groups specifically for women. For example, the University of Florida offers groups such as “Invincible Black Women,” which empowers African American women on their journey to positive mental health, and a “Women’s Meditation, Empowerment & Supportive Healing Group”.
Emergency Medical Services
EMS responds to medical emergency calls on campus and provides basic life support measures until more advanced medical care can be provided.
A number of commonly prescribed medications are available on campus. The payment methods accepted and precise medication available, including birth control, will depend on the specific school pharmacy’s policies.
Vaccinations and Travel Consulting
Students studying or traveling abroad might need specialized health advice depending on their intended destination. Vaccinations are also available to traveling students or those who just need a periodic vaccination, such as the flu vaccine.
Health and Wellness Education
Detailed tips and comprehensive information for staying healthy are the core benefits of this service. Students will have access to tailored consultations to address their specific health concerns, such as dealing with stress, sexual health and substance abuse.
Worried about privacy?
“Students are often concerned that their parents or professors might have access to their student health center records, but all the care provided is confidential and protected under student (FERPA) and health privacy (HIPAA) laws,” says Dr. Pridgen.
Spotlight on Women’s Health Centers on Campus
The women’s health center at the University of Maryland provides standard women’s healthcare, such as annual exams, contraceptive counseling and services (including emergency contraception), pregnancy testing and counseling, and STI testing. Recognized as a leader in LGBTQ Healthcare Equality by the Human Rights Campaign, the women’s health center also focuses on providing compassionate healthcare for any person, regardless of gender identity, if they “have a uterus, vagina, or breasts”. Students can also start and manage hormone therapy through the women’s health center.
In addition to having board-certified gynecologists and certified nurse practitioners, the Women’s Health Clinic at the University of Arizona also has certified nurse midwives on staff. The clinic offers standard women’s health services, such as annual exams, contraception counseling and prescriptions, and pregnancy testing. But they also offer preconception counseling for female students trying to conceive and evaluation and treatment for menopause.
Breastfeeding students will also be happy to know that the Women’s Health Center also offers a private, clean exam room with access to electrical outlets and handwashing areas for nursing and pumping.
Campus accommodations for health concerns
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), students who face certain health issues may be eligible for special accommodations. These accommodations are required by federal law and allow students with a disability or health concerns to have the same opportunities to learn as any other student.
Health concerns that may require accommodations include chronic conditions, physical disabilities or mental health conditions. Pregnancy-related conditions, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or chronic migraines may also be covered by the ADA and may make students eligible for accommodations.
Here are some common accommodations for students:
Separate testing location
Students suffering from anxiety disorders may benefit from a testing location that has fewer distractions.
Additional time to complete assignments or tests
Colleges recognize that students with certain health issues may need extra time due to medical treatments and medication side effects.
A student may be able to fulfill course requirements by completing alternative assignments if the student is unable to complete their assignment due to their disability. For example, if a student has to attend a particular off-campus event and write a paper about it, but is physically unable to get there, the teacher may allow the student to watch a recording of it or a video of something comparable to write about.
The types of technology available can vary widely depending on the student’s needs. For example, using a digital recorder to record in-class lectures can be helpful to students with attention disorders or any physical condition that makes listening or note-taking difficult.
Special academic assistant
Some students may need assistance to get the most out of the classroom experience. For example, this could include an assistant to carry a laptop and books for someone who has an injury requiring crutches or a wheelchair. Or it could be someone who provides emotional support for a student suffering from PTSD or panic attacks.
Those unable to drive or walk may be able to take advantage of a school-provided driver. This person can drive the student to campus from home or even transport the student on campus between buildings.
If a student is receiving medical treatment or needs to spend time away from the campus due to a disability or condition, online class options allow them to continue taking classes from their home or hospital bed.
How to request accommodations
Students who believe they are entitled to classroom accommodations must take proactive and concrete steps to obtain them. The burden is on the student to make the request and provide necessary information in support of it. A request for accommodations will consist of the following major steps.
Step 1: Figure out who to make the request to
Most schools will have a special administrative official or representative tasked with receiving requests for special accommodations, assessing whether the request is warranted and providing those accommodations. Not sure where to start? Begin with an academic advisor or a class professor. Many campuses will also have a center for students with disabilities.
Step 2: Contact the designated official and make the request as soon as possible
The request for accommodations should be in writing, whether hard copy or email. Information typically required in the request includes: the accommodation requested, the medical need for the accommodation and how the accommodation is necessary for proper learning.
This request must be made as soon as possible so the student can receive the accommodation with as little disruption to classroom learning as possible. Also, depending on the request, a school may need time to implement the accommodation.
Step 3: Provide supporting documentation
Students must prove their requested accommodation is reasonable and necessary for their college learning. In most cases, a letter or note from the student’s doctor explaining the need for the accommodation will be the minimum amount of documentation needed. But depending on the school’s policies and the accommodation requested, additional documentation may be needed.
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Women’s Mental Health in College
Mental health concerns, including anxiety and depressive disorders, occur often among the college student population. Though these can strike anyone regardless of gender, some mental health concerns are more common to women, such as eating disorders.
“My advice for any student struggling with mental health concerns would be to seek help sooner rather than later,” Dr. Pridgen advised. “As soon as you suspect you might be struggling with a mental health concern, or certainly if someone else expresses concern about your mental health, it is wise to make an appointment with either Student Health Services or Student Counseling Services. Each of these clinics is well equipped to evaluate your concern and help you find an appropriate plan.”
Common mental health concerns for college women
Many college women face mental health challenges while in college. Below are a few of the more common issues seen by college health services.
How mental health issues can affect women on campus
If a student is dealing with any of these issues, the importance of getting help early cannot be overstated. “One problem we run into often is students struggling with mental health problems all semester and not getting help until their academic status is in jeopardy,” says Dr. Pridgen. “Evaluation and treatment of mental illness takes time, and it is much more manageable when evaluated early.”
What are some of the consequences of untreated mental health issues?
Poor academic performance
As a whole, of all college students that reported decreased academic performance, stress was cited in about 30 percent of cases, sleep difficulties in about 20 percent, anxiety in about 24 percent and depression in about 16 percent of cases.
Women are also more likely to experience sexual assault on campus, which can cause them physical and mental harm. A 2014 study on the effect of sexual victimization of women on their academic performance found that 14.3 percent of those who experienced rape had a GPA lower than 2.5, while only 5.9 percent of college women who were not raped had a GPA below 2.5.
Dropping out of school
Mental health problems can have a significant impact on a female college student’s ability to finish school. A University of Michigan study, found that students with depression were about twice as likely to drop out of college. In the ACHA-NCHA, more than twice as many college women (15.2 percent) than men (7.2 percent) reported experiencing both depression and anxiety.
With the dramatic effect poor mental health can have on academic performance, it’s not a stretch to imagine how a college student’s personal life can also suffer. One of the significant symptoms of depression is social withdrawal. And for those suffering from anxiety, meeting new people or being in a socially unfamiliar situation can be frightening.
Mood-boosters for college women
After taking advantage of the mental health services on campus, there are still many small ways that college women can boost their mood and improve their overall well-being.
The health benefits of exercise are well-documented, especially in stress and anxiety reduction. Exercise also releases endorphins, the body’s nature painkillers. Any form of exercise on campus can provide a mood boost, but there are also many groups on campus for women that can also provide an opportunity to build a support network. One example is CHAARG, a group on over 50 campuses with a mission to show college-aged girls that fitness is fun.
Join a club or organization
Finding a group to join which engages in an activity you enjoy can bring positive influence to your life. And there are many women’s organizations on campus related to specific careers or majors, activism, hobbies and more.
Not only is volunteering a great way to give back to your school community and find a tribe of like-minded women, it’s also scientifically proven to make you happier. According to a study by the London School of Economics, those who volunteered monthly described themselves as “very happy” seven percent more often than those who didn’t. Weekly volunteering lead to 16 percent.
Take advantage of therapy animals
Some schools make therapy animals available for students. According to one study, students who participated in a dog therapy program showed reduced feelings of homesickness. If your school doesn’t have an animal therapy program, consider volunteering at an animal shelter or humane society. You’ll get the benefit of interacting with animals, plus get the added happiness boost of volunteering.
Get enough sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation, younger adults (age 18-25) need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. It can be tough to snag a full night’s sleep as a busy college student – in fact, over 46 percent of college women reported feeling “tired, dragged out or sleepy during the day” three to five days per week in the ACHA-NCHA. But putting in the extra effort to get a full night’s sleep at least a few days per week, or grabbing a quick nap between classes, can go a long way towards improving your state of mind.
Women’s mental health resources
Alpha Chi Omega
A national sorority with the overarching goal of helping college women, Alpha Chi Omega offers Risk-Management Education for members, which can help improve their physical and emotional health.
Part of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, OK2Talk provides an online community where teens and young adults can find a place to discuss their mental health issues.
An online resource specifically designed for college students who need information concerning mental health issues and concerns.
Center for Young Women’s Health – Emotional Health
A collection of resources on mental and emotional health issues created by Boston Children’s Hospital.
Developed specifically for women, this site offers comprehensive information for a plethora of health issues, including mental health and related concerns.
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Women’s Physical Health in College
College students are often in excellent health, but it’s important not to ignore the warning signs of impending health issues. It’s also important for those with chronic conditions to ensure they have a high standard of care during their early years, so they can look forward to living a full lifespan.
“Students are often not aware that student health services can help manage their chronic conditions, refill prescriptions, arrange regular follow up, etc,” Dr. Pridgen points out. “I would encourage all students to visit their school’s student health center in person in addition to visiting their school’s student health center website to get an idea of where it is located and what services are offered. You will likely discover that the variety and breadth of services is wider than you expected, and it is easier to become familiar with the clinic when you are feeling well instead of coming in for the first time with an illness.”
Health Concerns in College for Women
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