The Center for Health and Wellness is meant to act as a student’s primary health care provider while they are at Keene State College, but some students feel the health center doesn’t really do anything.
KSC Senior Scott Dyer said, “All they seem to do is give you crackers, ramen or cough drops and send you on your way.”
Dyer was not the only student who had this perception about the health center.
“I get that they don’t have doctors, so there are certain procedures they can’t do,” KSC Junior Jaedyn Bedell said, “But I’ve never heard anyone say anything really positive about it. It’s almost like the nurse’s office in high school.”
Christine Burke, the director of the Center for Health and Wellness, said the problem isn’t so much the health center not being able to help students, but rather the students being uninformed of the services the health center offers and the procedures for visiting the center.
The biggest misconception about the health center, according to Burke, is the idea that it is a walk-in clinic.
“Everybody who walks in will be seen by a registered nurse, but the students who have actually made appointments will be seen by the nurse practitioners,” Burke said, “This creates a problem because if there is a long line of walk-ins, students get mad when they see a student with an appointment show up and be seen right away.”
After going over data from the 2013 academic year, Burke found the number of walk-ins for first-year students doubled the number of first-years who had made appointments. Burke pointed out that the number of walk-ins opposed to appointments by seniors in 2013 was about even.
“This shows that by the time students are seniors, many of them have learned how to determine when they actually need to see a doctor,” Burke said.
She continued, “A big part of our mission is education; we work at a higher college so we spend a lot of time teaching students.”
Burke said another major issue the health center faces is the ratio of staff to students. She said there are two full-time nurse practitioners who see roughly fifteen to seventeen students a day, giving each student roughly thirty minutes with a nurse practitioner.
The health center also has two medical assistants and two registered nurses who assist the nurse practitioners and take care of walk-in students.
“Students’ perceptions may be that we aren’t attending to them quickly enough, when what it really is, is a matter of numbers,” Burke said, “The medical assistants help the nurse practitioners by taking all students with scheduled appointments and taking their vitals, taking any necessary tests or samples, and getting them ready for the nurse practitioner. Once the practitioner enters the room, the medical assistant moves on to the next room to prepare another patient. It’s kind of like a tag team.”
Burke said the registered nurses take care of the walk-ins as well as basic services like blood draws, immunizations and tuberculosis tests.
KSC Senior Tyler Coughlin had to observe at the health center for his athletic training major and he said just from his experience in learning about the medical field, there is only so much clinical evaluation that can be done in the amount time the care providers are given at the health center. Coughlin said, “They do their best to treat all the students the best they can, with what they have.”
The small number of staff and large student body can create a bottleneck during busy times if a large number of students are walking in without appointments. Burke said the health center is making some changes for the spring 2015 semester that she hopes will help alleviate some of the stress on the staff and some of the frustration of the students.
“Next semester, we’re actually going to do walk-ins in the morning, so it’s going to be a big campaign,” Burke said. She said in the past they have tried putting up posters around campus encouraging people to call and make appointments, but this campaign is slated to be bigger than that.
Burke said the goal is to provide fast service with one central focus per student. She said many students will come in with one issue and then bring up other questions about unrelated issues.
“If you come in with a sore throat and you’ve got a fever, we’re going to put you in and deal with the sore throat. If you say, ‘Oh I want you to look at my wrist,’ we’re going to tell you to make another appointment for that. It’s going to be trying to move them through quickly and pinpoint the critical issue,” Burke said. She also said that once 11 o’clock hits, walk-ins will no longer be accepted. Burke said she thinks it will take time for students to adjust to the new system, but in the end it will benefit them.
“This is how they run it at the clinic at Cheshire Medical Center and it has been successful for them,” she said. Burke said the health center should be every student’s first option for medical care before going to a hospital or clinic because it is already paid for by their tuition and if higher medical care is required the health center will refer students to the necessary treatment facility.
Jesse Reynolds can be contacted at email@example.com