Fortunately, most student health centers are catered specifically to college students and their needs. Most professors on campus, for example, likely go to doctors off-campus. For students, this means the student health center is both a resource tailored to their unique needs as well as a place where privacy can be expected.
Many campus health centers offer some, if not all, of the following services:
- Seasonal and other vaccines, like flu shots. You don't need to be a pre-med. major to know that when one person gets the flu in your residence hall, everyone gets the flu in your residence hall. (And, of course, it always seems to happen during midterms and finals weeks!) Many student health centers try to take a proactive approach to these kinds of situations and offer seasonal vaccines, like the flu shot, so that you at least have some kind of chance against catching what everyone else seems to have. Additionally, some schools also have one or two days a semester where they are specifically offering seasonal vaccines at low or no cost, so keep an eye out for campus announcements.
- General medical care. Forget to get your flu shot and now you're pretty sick? Think you might have strep throat? Pretty sure you have pink eye, en ear infection, or even an STD? Head on down to the student health center to get yourself looked at. Since campus health centers are often the primary medical resource for students on campus, they're willing and able to treat basic and common conditions affecting the student population.
- Contraception (for both before and after). While this varies for different kinds of campuses (religious schools, for example, may not be willing or able to provide contraception), many campus health centers offer everything from condoms and birth control to the morning-after pill. Take advantage of what your center has to offer and know what options are available for those "just in case" situations. (You know, getting an appointment just in case the condom broke, just in case you and your partner forgot to use protection ...)
- Women's health services. Many college-aged women need things like gynecological care and/or their annual exam. Fortunately, your campus health center can provide basic services like these. Additionally, most student health centers also offer pregnancy tests for those in need.
- Screenings if you're concerned about a major health issue. Working in partnership with a mental health or counseling center on campus, quite a few student health centers offer screenings -- and support -- if you're worried about yourself or a friend having depression, an eating disorder, unhealthy drinking behaviors, substance abuse issues, or even HIV. In addition to doing a particular day in the quad when the center will screen students, campus health centers usually offer these services year-round.
- Treatment for sports injuries. You can play football at a Division I school or be part of you campus's intramural Quidditch team. Either way, a busted ankle is a busted ankle. Check to see if your campus health center can take a look at your sports injury before it gets even worse.
- Tests needed for jobs and internships. If you're going to be working or interning in a school or hospital, for example, you might need to take a TB test before you can start. Instead of going through a complicated process off campus, see if your student health center can do your test for you. It will be easier, faster, and most likely cheaper.
A word about confidentiality: Most student health centers have very strict confidentiality policies, both because of your education rights as a student (from FERPA) and because of the doctor-patient relationship. Some charges may show up on your tuition bill that your parents see, however, but won't be specific enough so they know you smartly got an HIV test. If you're at all concerned, talk with one of the providers at your campus health center to make sure you're clear on their confidentiality policies.