By Andrew Cluley Communications Specialist
Stores are already pushing back-to-school-sales, but it’s important for families to make sure back-to-school health issues are a focus in addition to the pens, crayons, and folders. For students entering kindergarten, seventh grade, or new to Ann Arbor Public Schools, that means making sure all immunizations are up to date. For many other students it’s time to make sure they have a sports physical.
Immunizations and sports physicals are just two of the many services available to children 21 and under through the Regional Alliance for Healthy Schools partnership between Ann Arbor Public Schools and the University of Michigan Health System. The clinics located at Scarlett Middle School and the Pathways to Success Academic Campus never charge the students for services. If the patient has insurance they will submit bills to the insurance company, but uninsured students also are treated.
Beth Kuzma is a Nurse Practitioner and supervises the clinic at Pathways. She says the sports physicals they offer are more comprehensive than those offered in many other locations. “We treat our sports physicals almost like an annual wellness exam. It’s not like a traditional sports physical clinic where you get in and out just with the physical and go,” she says. “Because with youth often their only opportunity for getting health care is once a year during their sports physical. We take that opportunity to say, lets look at your entire health.”
These physicals often last 45 minutes, with much of the time spent asking questions to find out if the students are dealing with a variety of issues, such as eating healthy, exercising, do they like school, are they being bullied. Kuzma says young people are generally healthy so it can be a challenge to identify possible health issues. “Behavior and choices, or things that they’ve experienced in their life are what puts their health at risk, and so we do this questionnaire to identify some of those things that might put their health at risk,” she says.
The clinics are also prepared to address the needs of foreign students and others who English isn’t their first language. “We usually try to set it up ahead of time and an interpreter will come to the site if they are available, but if not, then they’re always available by phone for us,” says Medical Assistant Sherry Allen.
In addition to sports physicals and immunizations, the RAHS clinics offer nutrition counseling, health and fitness education programs, sick visits, dental and eye care, confidential health services, and referrals to a wide variety of community resources. Over 570 students were served by the clinics this year.
Kuzma says she loves the opportunity she has to work with kids in a unique environment. She says the clinic can have a pretty powerful impact on young adults because the staff has the opportunity to really build a relationship with the students. “I think all teenagers have something else going on and they need someone who’s willing to listen and to hear their story,” Kuzma says. “Then you can find out a lot about how there are opportunities for improved health and there might be risks that they’re taking and they just need someone to ask.”
Loren Dobkin is the Nurse Practitioner that supervises the health center at Scarlett. She enjoys the unpredictable nature of working with young patients. “Someone comes in for shoulder pain and we find out they actually need to talk about a recent loss in they’ve had in the family,” Dobkin says. While another example ended up much differently. “She said that she had depression, but it actually had only lasted an hour and we were able to talk through it and address a problem that she actually had with her tonsils, that we were able to get fixed through the U of M system.”
With the deadline for immunizations set for the first day of school, and the clinics always being very busy the first couple of months, Dobkin, Kuzma, and Allen say now is the time to make an appointment to get necessary vaccines and sports physicals.