by Phyllis Townsend,  MD

Sending your young adult off to college is an anxiety provoking event on many levels. Concern over whether your child will do well with their studies? Will they get very homesick? Will they eat right? Will my child know what to do when they get sick? The thought of a sick child 100 – 3000 miles away is enough to keep the most calm parent awake at night. Preparing your child for college needs to include not only sheets and toiletries, but a discussion about how to care for themselves if they get ill.

Check with the college your child is attending about their Student Health services. What hours are they open? Does a sick student need an appointment or will they see walk-ins? How easy is it to get an appointment? What if your child needs a higher level of service or needs tests or x-rays? Do they refer your child to someone off-campus? Who makes that decision? You may want to check with your insurance company about coverage and be prepared for it to be out-of-network if your child is attending college out of state. Request a copy of your insurance card for your child to carry in their wallet.

Put together a first aid kit for your child. The kit should include bandaids, antibacterial ointment, as well as cough and cold medicines. Consider putting allergy medicine, antacids as well as Tylenol and/or Motrin in the kit. Help your child understand what each of the medications is for. Review with them the appropriate dose and frequency of the medications.

If your child takes prescription medicine strategize ways your child might get refills. You can identify a pharmacy close to the college campus and have your child’s prescription transferred there. If your child takes a controlled medication like Ritalin or Adderall you will need to discuss with their physician how your child will obtain refills, especially if your child attends college out of state. Some insurance companies will allow you to obtain 3 month supplies of controlled medications which could make things easier and allow your child uninterrupted supply of medications. There are some colleges that will provide prescriptions for your child through a physician in Student Health once the proper documentation of the diagnosis is provided. Some pharmacies are able to receive controlled prescriptions electronically so your child’s own pediatrician may be able to send the Adderall or Ritalin prescription to a pharmacy nearby.

It is important to discuss with your child the necessity of properly securing their controlled prescriptions in their dorm room or apartment. Ritalin and/or Adderall are in high demand on college campuses and are frequently stolen and resold. Consider a lock box for your child to store their controlled drugs.

Lastly, if your child will be over 18 when they leave for school consider having them sign a Health Care Proxy designating you as the person who is allowed to make medical decisions in event they are unable. While a difficult subject to discuss, it is a good idea to know what are your child’s wishes if they become injured. These forms can be downloaded from the internet and usually require 2 witnesses to be enforceable.

Your child is certain to face some difficulties while in college and learning to manage them is part of a young person’s growth. Do what you can to have your child in a position to handle the stress of illness while away from home. If you have concerns or need direction, be sure to consult with your child’s pediatrician.