LiveSmart: Off to College – Helping Students Maintain Good Physical and Mental Health

[This story was written by Carrie Hogan, MSN, ANP-C, Director, Siena College Health Services]

Labor Day is right around the corner, which means students will be headed off to college soon to prepare for the fall semester. Whether your son or daughter is entering as a freshman, or returning as an upperclassman, there are a few things you can do as a parent to help ease the transition – and give yourself a little peace of mind.

A good place to start is to ensure your son or daughter has the necessary supplies to treat the everyday illnesses, cuts and scrapes they will encounter at school. Along with their smart phones and laptops, students should bring basic first aid kits as another step toward living independently.

A basic first aid kit should include:

  • Bandages and antibiotic ointment (bacitracin, Neosporin)
  • Tweezers (for splinter and tick removal)
  • A thermometer
  • An ice pack or chemical cold pack
  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen for aches and fevers
  • Medicine for allergies
  • Cough and cold medicine
  • Sore throat lozenges
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Medical masks
  • COVID rapid test kits

In addition to the above, freshmen should have a pre-college physical from their primary care physician. During that visit, it’s a good idea for them to ask about getting a flu shot or COVID booster before heading off to campus. Their physician should send the college’s health center a summary of their care, including any restrictions or needed interventions.

Before classes begin, all students must have the immunizations required by their college. Students should also be aware of the scope of their health insurance coverage, as well as the provider. Students are generally covered through their guardian’s health care plan, although sometimes it is provided through the college.

It’s also important for students to be knowledgeable about their medications, doses and frequencies; they should bring their medications and any inhalers to campus. They should also know about their allergies or reactions to medications and foods; and their own and their family’s health histories.

Before they head out, make sure you have a discussion with them about taking care of their mental health and what they should do if they feel overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed. It’s good for your young adult to hear they are not alone, that it is OK to ask for help, and there are campus resources available (in addition to you being just a phone call away).

Finally, don’t forget to remind your son or daughter of the best germ-fighting skill they learned even before they started kindergarten – hand washing! The best way for students to protect themselves from the cold, flu and other germs is to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly, especially before eating.

The Siena College Health Center, operated by St. Peter’s since 1993, provides low-cost, accessible health care to its students. The Health Center is staffed with nurse practitioners, physician assistants, registered nurses and a physician consultant, who are skilled in providing immunizations, routine medical care for most common illnesses, treatment of minor injuries, and health education to students.


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