So you’re going to college—that’s awesome! Overwhelming AND awesome, we should say. As you’re rushing around looking for extra-long sheets and shoe organizers, make time for one last checkup at with your doctor. It’s not just about vaccinations and lectures on safe sex; we’re here to answer the questions you can’t ask anyone else—no matter how unsure or embarrassed you may feel.
VWC’s Dr. Karen W. Jefferson loves working with teens and will put you at ease. For her, the pre-college checkup is a chance to cover all the things you need to know, from mental health to sexual health. “Sometimes you don’t know what you need to know, and don’t know what questions to ask,” she says. That’s OK. Here are the five Hs you need to think about as you head off to college.
If you never had the opportunity to get the Gardasil vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV) when you were younger, or if you didn’t complete the three-shot vaccine series, now is the time.
The HPV vaccination decreases your chance of getting life-threatening cancers, specifically cervical and anal cancers. It also decreases your chances of genital warts and precancerous cells. It is important for young women under the age of 27 to discuss getting the vaccine with your physician. If you’re not sure if you got the vaccine, our VWC team can help you request your medical records so you can find out.
HPV isn’t the only sexually transmitted disease to worry about, of course. If you choose to be sexually active, it is much better to be protected than affected by the many potential sexually transmitted infections. Practice safe sex. If you’re not sure what your options are, ask! Don’t be embarrassed—that’s why we are here.
Your college’s health center is your on-campus resource not only for common medical concerns but also for those personal problems that you may not want to share with anyone else.
Mental health issues, irregular cycles, and unexplained changes, if serious, are important to address as they occur—don’t wait to come home for the holidays! If your college is close by, we are happy to help you navigate many of these issues. If you’re further away, seek help at your college’s health center. The important thing is to get the care you need.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle—a good healthy diet, regular exercise, enough sleep and stress management—is very important during the college years.
- Eating a healthy diet can help boost your immune system and help you maintain a healthy weight. Walking to class is an easy way to fit exercise into your busy college schedule. Most schools have incredible fitness centers, intramural sports, and offer exercise classes—at all hours of the day!
- Try not to make pulling all-nighters a habit. Treat college as you “job” get up at a regular time, study during the day and in between classes. Then you can enjoy college and social activities at night.
- Try to get eight hours of sleep each night.
- Learn to manage your stress. The college years are an exciting time—and they can be stressful with roommate challenges, classes, projects, exams and more. Finding time to relax and have downtime is important to staying healthy. If you find yourself panicking while studying or taking an exam, breathe slowly and deeply.
Sometimes, when young women live around other young women, they begin to compare themselves. In rare cases, obsession with body image can overtake thoughts and daily activities. If this happens, it’s important to seek professional help— right away.
HELP against sexual assault/harassment
Colleges and universities are working to make campuses safer by providing extra security, encouraging group travel and making security escorts available for late-night travels. But, it’s important for you to know where you’re going (it’s hard to be aware of your surroundings if you’re following a map app on your phone!) and where your school’s campus safety office is. Take extra precaution at night and walk with a friend or group, lock your dorm room and bike, and keep your wits about you. Be wary of excessive drinking, drugs and “special” drinks that might alter your judgment. Beware of date rape. No means NO.
At school, you’re going to be sharing your personal space, so it’s really important to respect others in the bathroom, dispose of sanitary products discreetly, and don’t leave hair in the sink. If you’re an athlete, make sure you’re diligent about washing your clothes, so your room doesn’t get that sweaty funk. “Keep your part of the world as tidy as you can,” Dr. Jefferson says, “and you’ll keep the peace with roommates and friends.”
As a college student, you’ll have to create a balance between work and play, apply for internships and jobs, and manage your budget along with many other “adult” responsibilities. But, being happy should be on your to-do list, too! “Don’t let college stress wreck your health; make time for exercise you enjoy and mindfulness—whether meditation or just quiet ‘you’ time. Remember, self-care is not selfish.”
In life, communication is key. “Don’t bottle things up and then explode,” Dr. Jefferson says. Instead, share when something’s bothering you. Talk to your friends, your RA/RM or a counselor if you’re feeling anxious or depressed. Stay in touch with family members and friends you can confide in.
You may become best friends with your roommate, you may not. You’re not stuck with them all four years. Branch out, make friends in class, at work, or by joining a club. If you’re feeling lost, volunteer. Giving back is a great way to meet people with similar values and goals, and get perspective on life.
This is your time—your time to explore, to learn and to shine. Trust yourself, work hard, and take a few leaps of faith. Revel in your college experience. Treasure every precious moment—and remember them on the hard days. You’ve got this.
Virginia Womens’ Center, Dr. Jefferson and her team of nurse practitioners at our Short Pump location have a passion for helping teens navigate life. They have a special interest in helping them learn about the unique situations women experience as young adults. They enjoy helping young women learn about birth control options and irregular cycles. Throughout every age and stage Virginia Women’s Center encourages preventative care and living a healthy lifestyle.
If you would like to be seen at any of our other locations, we have teen specialists available there as well. Just let our patient coordinator team know when you call to make an appointment. 804.288.4084