Health Center provides care away from home

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March 23, 2010

12:52 AM

Tucked away in the woods, the Student Health Center serves as an on-campus refuge for those suffering from health issues. With a staff composed of doctors, nurse practitioners, administrators and lab technicians, the clinic is well suited to meet a variety of medical situations.

“We certainly have the students’s interest at heart, to give good service and good care,” administrative medical assistant Jane Brown said.

Brown has worked at the health center for two and a half years, checking in patients, working with charts and insurance records, and making appointments. After spending 16 years at a private orthopedic practice, she transitioned to the campus clinic because she was ready for a change of pace.

“I liked the atmosphere,” she said. “The pace is not quite as hectic as in private practice.”

Medical Director Virginia Wells also came to the health center looking for a less frantic schedule. She had previously cared for adults in her private internal medicine practice, and was the only infectious disease specialist in Williamsburg.

“Private practice is very demanding,” Wells said. “The average day was 14 to 16 hours. Here at the health center it’s about eight to nine.”

Wells was also interested in working with the students at the College of William and Mary.

“It was an opportunity to take care of a totally different population,” she said. “It’s different in that it’s typically a healthier population with usually more acute illness, whereas with older patients you’re dealing with more chronic disease. These are healthy people that don’t have underlying problems, whose illnesses are short-lived. It’s a different challenge.”

The health center is often students’s first solo encounter with a medical establishment. Staff members are aware of their patients’s potential inexperience.

“The challenge that we as physicians have found is helping them navigate health care,” Wells said. “It’s fun, actually. It’s really just educating them on being good consumers of health.”

Being responsible about your health entails more than just going to the health center when ill, and Wells often has to remind students to come back, call back, and follow up.

“I’ve moved myself from just being a doctor to being a teacher and a doctor,” she said.
Brown frequently deals with students who are unfamiliar with how their insurance operates, and she does her best to be sensitive to their needs.

“I’m a grandmother, so it sort of kicks in,” she said. “You try to be as helpful as you’d want someone to be to your child or grandchild. If you’re a freshman and your parents have always taken you to the doctor, you don’t know how to pay for things. You try to be as helpful and understanding as you can of their situation.”

Students’ reviews about the care they’ve received at the health center have been mixed.

“I was feeling really, really bad once, and they came and picked me up from the dorm and drove me back, which was nice,” Nicole Zamalin ’13 said. “The only complaint that I’ve heard is, people who had a condition where they really had to get in quickly, and they couldn’t see them until the next day.”

Brown explained that the clinic has explicit policies about scheduling appointments. Walk-ins are not usually accepted, so students must call to make arrangements ahead of time. In cases of emergencies, the staff tries to examine patients on the same day on which they call.

“It’s a pretty fine-tuned machine, much more so than private practice — at least the ones I’ve worked for,” Brown said. “We have a very strict protocol about scheduling appointments and how long they are. We try to keep things on schedule.”

Cate Shermer ’12 was impressed with the personal attention she received last spring when she felt the beginnings of a migraine headache a few hours before one of her final exams.

“I, in a panic, decided to go to the health center,” Shermer said. “The nurse took me back and did all the checkup stuff. She suggested a medicine that would be more effective. The next day I got a call on my cell phone. It was the nurse, who had called to say, ‘I was really worried about you and your test, and I just wanted to see if it worked out.’”

The health center has integrated itself on campus, working with student medical service trips and sexual assault awareness groups, as well as with the counseling center. Staff members study student health trends in order to be as effective as possible.

“The things we’ve seen have been a decrease in respiratory illnesses,” Wells said. “I think that’s a result of students being more active with hand washing, with preventive treatment with flu vaccines. We’ve seen an increase in minor injuries, but along with that we’ve seen more activity among young women. They’re more involved in sports and activities.”

Wells also noted a decline in smoking among students, which she thought may correlate with the decline in respiratory illness. In overall terms of working at the health center, both Brown and Wells expressed satisfaction with their coworkers and facilities.

“It’s probably the nicest place I’ve ever worked,” Wells said. “I think what tells the story is that the majority of the core people who have been here 10, 15, 20, 30 years. The people who are here want to be here. The reality is that people in other parts of medicine could make much more money in the private sector, [but] my friends in private practice are extremely jealous. This is a happy place to be.”

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