Why Visiting The Doctor Should Be on Your Back to School To-Do List

You may be healthy and in the prime of your life. But that doesn’t mean you’re “unbreakable.” Here are five reasons why you need a checkup before you head back to school this fall.

Between winding down your internship, getting back into the swing of things after returning from vacation, lining up your class schedule and buying all those books, a yearly physical likely isn’t at the top of your list. But it should be.

Your doctor can help make sure you’re in tip-top shape, both mentally and physically, for the school year.

1. Vaccines

You thought they were just for little kids, huh? Even if you saw your pediatrician before the start of freshman year to make sure you were up-to-date, you may not be anymore.

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the meningitis, T-dap and HPV vaccines for anyone between the ages of 19 and 24. And don’t forget about your annual flu shot. College students are notorious for not getting one, but close living quarters in the dorm are the perfect breeding spots for the cold and flu virus.

“Immunizations aren’t just for children,” explains Rose Taroyan, MD, assistant professor of Clinical Family Medicine at Keck Medicine of USC. “Your primary care physician will provide information on the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which protects against some HPV-associated cancers. Although HPV vaccines can prevent the majority of cervical, anal, oropharyngeal (middle throat) and other genital cancers, vaccination rates remain low across the U.S.”

2. Birth control and STD testing

If you’re sexually active, you need to actively protect yourself (or your partner) from an unwanted pregnancy. Equally important is the fact that sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise on college campuses; specifically, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis spiked sharply in 2015, according to the CDC. It’s important both to get checked and to learn the best way to protect yourself.

When a physician screens for sexually transmitted infections, “these can range from chlamydia to HIV and includes gonorrhea and syphilis,” says Dr. Taroyan. “Some counseling is done to educate patients on what you can do to protect yourself from any possible infections.”

3. Stress

If you know you’re the type to turn to french fries and pizza or binge drinking around midterms and finals when the stress gets dialed up, your doctor can help you strategize to find better, healthier and more effective ways to maintain your equilibrium.

4. Diet

Speaking of french fries and pizza, that “freshman 15” can be hard to shake. Your doctor can help recommend ways for you to eat healthfully and lose the weight without feeling like you’re on a strict diet.

Speaking of french fries and pizza, that “freshman 15” can be hard to shake. Your doctor can help recommend ways for you to eat healthfully and lose the weight without feeling like you’re on a strict diet.

“Instead of eating out, cook at home,” suggests Helga Van Herle, MD, MS, associate professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine and cardiologist at the USC CardioVascular Thoracic Institute of Keck Medicine of USC. “It’s easy to appreciate the convenience of eating out, but studies have shown that in comparison to meals prepared at home, eating out at both fast food or full-service restaurants are equally unhealthy in terms of calories, fat and sodium. By eating meals prepared at home, you will be able to save around 190 calories, 10 grams of fat and around 3-400 mg of sodium.”

5. Depression

It’s normal to have mixed feelings when headed back to school. Hey, you miss your old friends, having your own room and your family, and having to navigate the world all on your own can be daunting. But if those feelings get to be too much for you and your find yourself unable to get out of bed day after day or begging off parties and invitations from friends, it may be a sign of something more.

“Review what you are grateful for,” suggests Carolyn Kaloostian, MD, MPH, assistant professor of clinical family medicine at Keck Medicine of USC. “It doesn’t matter if you do it in the morning, at lunch, or in the evening. All that matters is you are specific when you do it – and that you do it once a day. This will help you set your attitude towards a state of abundance and attract more happiness into your life.”

Don’t be embarrassed to talk to your doctor if you’re more tired than usual, isolating yourself or no longer enjoying regular activities. And seek help immediately (from your doctor or a hotline) if you start thinking about suicide. There are people who want to help.

If you are local to Southern California and are in search of a primary care physician, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit www.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment to schedule an appointment.

By Anne Fritz