College is an amazing milestone everyone looks forward to experiencing.
Besides going to Bed Bath and Beyond to get items needed to set up your dorm room, a visit to your pediatrician or gynecologist should also be on your “to do” list.
As you transition from a high school to college student you are also transitioning from childhood to adulthood. Your body is transitioning to a stage of sexual development both emotionally and physically, putting you at high risk for pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STI). Counseling by a health care professional involves issues and questions related to your period, birth control and sexual and mental health. These and other topics are helpful as you head off to college and unfamiliar territory.
It’s recommended girls 13-15 years see their health care provider to start and build a relationship to discuss screening, preventive services and other health care guidance. If you missed this window, now is the time to make yourself an appointment. You want to develop a comfortable relationship where you feel safe to ask questions that may make you squirm in your seat or turn red in the face. The good news is this visit can be a consultation only and/or an external examination to make sure everything is anatomically normal. Pap smear testing for cervical cancer does not start until you are 21 years old. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommend a pelvic examination only be performed on patients younger than 21 years if medically necessary. For example, if you have painful urination or abnormal vaginal discharge or odor an internal pelvic exam would be necessary. This “external only” pelvic exam allows the healthcare provider to make sure the external genitalia, the vagina and vulva (lips), are normal.
Topics covered during your pre-college doctor’s visit:
- Menstrual Periods-Are they coming monthly? Do you have cramps that prevent you from going to class or participating in extracurricular activities?
- Sexual Health Issues-Having the opportunity to ask about sexual health issues will make you feel comfortable about your personal choices.
- Abstinence-Is the best way to prevent pregnancy. Know that abstinence is becoming a popular trend among college students.
- Birth Control Options-Knowing all the different types of birth control options can help with period problems and pregnancy prevention.
- Safe Sex-Involves condom use. Do you know the definition of safe sex? Safe sex includes oral sex with a condom, dental dam, vaginal sex with a male or female condom and anal sex with a male or female condom.
- HPV vaccination-HPV is epidemic and found in nearly 80 million Americans. The HPV vaccine has been helpful in reducing the incidence of HPV infections by 70-90%.
Ideally the best age to receive this vaccine is prior to becoming sexually active. For this reason, some physicians recommend receiving the vaccine between 11 and 12 years of age.
- Sexual Identity-Questions and concerns about your sexual identity.
- Mental Health-Depression and anxiety concerns. 1 in 5 adolescents suffer from mental health problems.
- Tobacco, Alcohol and Substance Abuse-Using alcohol and drugs can put you more at risk for unplanned and unprotected sex leading to a risk for STI.
- Body Issues-Eating disorders. Focusing on eating a healthy and colorful diet.
The emphasis of this visit is on education and developing an honest doctor-patient relationship.
Your first college assignment happens before you leave for school. Becoming empowered, knowledgeable and confident about your body will give you your first college “A” in taking care of your personal health.