I wrote about this topic last fall as I was preparing for my oldest offspring to head to college. After reading everything I could on making sure that her transition is relatively smooth, I ran across a posting from a mom on a website devoted to sharing stories about kids who have “left the nest” that reminded me of a glaring omission on my part.

The mother wrote about a harrowing experience her son had when he was hundreds of miles away from home and ended up in the emergency room. While he made it through fine–and the mom finally made it to his bedside–it did remind me that there was something I still needed to talk to my own young adult about before she packs up her car and waves goodbye.

I also know from working with first-year students for over 20 years that they will get sick and being away from home, even if is only 30 minutes away, can make managing that illness a little more challenging. The more your student can do now to prepare, the more likely they will know what to do should they have a health issue when they get to campus. Now with the flu season in full swing (and in epidemic proportions), these tips are good for you to review with your own student no matter where they are going or how far they will be from you:

#1 Make doctor’s appointments before your student heads off to college. This, of course, means making any annual check-ups during the summer so they have the necessary health forms completed before they step on campus, but it also means looking at the college’s academic calendar and making any other appointments (dentist appointments always seem to creep up on us, for example) with the holiday breaks in mind. This will ensure that your student can be seen during those breaks, but it also keeps them from missing classes or exams because, as my students tell me, their parents didn’t know they had a conflict.

#2 Fill prescriptions. If your student needs medication regularly, get those prescriptions filled and ask if you can get them in bulk (for example, can you get a 4-month supply of a medication?). Better yet, have your student navigate the refilling of prescriptions if they have never done it before. I realized this just today as I asked my daughter to take care of her prescription and she moaned, “But I don’t know what I am supposed to do.” Guess what! She does now, which means she will know better should she need to refill a prescription while she is at college.

#3 Pack common over-the-counter medicines and first-aid kit and review when and how to use them. My kids rarely ever get sick, which means they have not had much experience taking medication and managing doses and timing. If your college student is in the same situation,  I suggest helping them understand how to handle basic over-the-counter medicines and track their use. Same with first-aid kits. Can they wrap up a cut? Remove a splinter? Find that out before they leave.

#4 Figure out what your college’s health clinic can and cannot offer. Your college most likely has a health clinic on campus and it most likely offers a wide range of services. Find out what they can do, how to make an appointment, what their regular hours are, and what their communication policy is should your student need treatment. Find out the kinds of cases that get referred to other professionals as well.

#5 Identify local doctors, specialists, walk-in clinics, pharmacies, and emergency rooms. If you are unfamiliar with community in which your student is going to college, search for nearby resources and ask college officials for recommendations. If your student needs to see an allergist regularly, for example, the college may be able to provide a list of nearby clinics. Your student should also be aware of local walk-in clinics should they be nearby the campus and have a minor emergency.

#6 Create a communications plan with your student. It is one thing to identify where everything is located and how to access health professionals, but it is a whole other thing to communicate effectively when there is a health emergency. Discuss with your student how and when to communicate when they are sick or injured. Make sure–and this is one of the most important points–that you both know the names and phone numbers of people who would be able to call you should an emergency arise. This could be a roommate, a close friend, or residential staff, or a campus official. Should your student not be in a position to talk, you will need to have someone you can communicate with.

#7 Practice self-advocacy with your student. Finally, help your student develop self-advocacy skills. Teach them how to ask questions, to get clarification, to describe what they need, and to let people know when something doesn’t seem right. They need to be focused on getting the medical help they need, not worried about whether or not you are going to be mad or how expensive the visit may be. Role playing common scenarios may help students who are shy develop skills for speaking up.

May your student never have any health issues while they are away at college, but rest a little easier knowing that your student knows what to do should they get sick.

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