Collegiate Health and Wellness Week: Top 5 Issues in College Medicine

Ahh, to be a college student again.  The freedom of summertime and spring break.  Living in the dorms, spending late night hours with your closest friends.  College is the only acceptable place to be seen in public in a bikini on a slip-n-slide after the age of 9.  Students are "so stressed out" about their class loads...because their schedule demands waking before 10am.  Time spent in college makes up the final moments you have to live essentially responsibility-free.  Many students are taking note.

The typical university party scene, close living conditions and seemingly inconsequential decision-making process on most college campuses confers a public health nightmare.  As a nurse practitioner, you are likely responsible for the health of a few of these impressionable young adults.  What health issues do you need to bring up at their next visit?  Or, rather, since they are not seeking regular preventative care, why are they most likely so seek your medical expertise?

  1. Infectious Disease- Close living conditions in colleges and universities create the perfect set-up for the spread of diseases.  I know what you are thinking...STD's.  Well, yes, testing for and advocating against spread of STD's is imperative among college age students.  In addition, viruses like influenza and gastroenteritis run rampant on campus.  Make sure your students are vaccinated against preventable communicable diseases such as influenza, HPV and meningitis.
  2. Eating Disorders and Healthy Diet- The college years are the first time many young adults enjoy the freedom to choose everything they eat.  Some elect to eat nothing, others eat everything.  Personally, I made liberal use of the frozen yogurt machine on my university campus promptly gaining 20 pounds (combined with my blonde dye job, I thought I looked super hot).  Eating disorders are a more serious issue than the freshman 15 (...or 20) and require some professional intervention.  Get help for students you suspect are battling anorexia or bulimia.
  3. Sleep Deprivation-I'm not sure this issue is reserved for students, but college is typically where sleep deprivation habits begin.  From late nights partying to early morning study sessions, the college lifestyle leads to poor sleeping habits in turn causing anxiety, irritability, increased susceptibility to illness, weight gain and poor classroom performance.  Inform students about the importance of getting a solid 7-8 hours of sleep each night to prevent future health problems.
  4. Substance Abuse-Beer pong, keg stands and flip cup games (if you don't know what I'm talking about, you really missed out...) may seem innocent enough on an occasional basis but for some students, drinking tips the scales to full-blown alcohol abuse.  According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 4 in 5 college students drink.  600,000 college students are injured under the influence of alcohol each year.  Drug experimentation and abuse is of course also an issue for some students and can lead to long-term addiction and health problems.
  5. Mental Health Issues- From pressure to select a career path to living away from home for the first time, attending college presents a major life change.  Studies show 27 percent of college age students experience some type of mental health problem.  Untreated depression leads to over 1,100 suicides on college campuses each year.  80 percent of college students report feeling frequent stress or anxiety.  Ask your young adult patients directly about these issues so they feel free to share their struggles.

Yes, the college life is an exciting one.  Frankly, as fun as it was I don't have enough energy to go back.  Instead, I will live vicariously through my college-age patients helping them make the transition into adulthood as healthfully as possible.