Some make the effort to make an appointment all on their own; others get a reminder from their doctor or, more likely, a parent. But you invariably find yourself sitting on those uncomfortable waiting room chairs as you scroll through your phone, and that all too familiar hospital smell fills your personal space, welcoming you back.
You begin to wonder why these visits are necessary. The annual checkup seems like a waste of calendar space, especially during university. “I end up going only when I’m too sick for a Tylenol to cure,” as fourth-year life sciences student Tayo Sofela says. But are those of us who no longer go missing out?
According to Margie Lyon, the acting clinic manager of the Health and Counselling Centre, the visits are worthwhile and “give an opportunity to have a frank discussion with a physician or practitioner about how things are going in your life and worries you may have”. It’s easy to Google symptoms, but not always reliable.
At UTM, it’s possible to make an annual appointment with an HCC doctor, who can order testing if necessary, says Lyon.
“Their services go beyond the traditional tongue-depressing and knee-whacking,” she adds. “[They] also provide an opportunity to talk about how school is going, course loads, extra activities, lifestyle, etc.”
One reason students dread hospital visits are what can feel like invasive questions asked by the physician. Do they really need to know your drinking, smoking, and exercise habits? Well, yes. Diagnosing a patient is like solving a crime—the doctor must use clues such as your blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, lifestyle, and other factors to determine the cause of your ailment.
“Any change to one’s lifestyle may have a positive effect on delaying or removing health issues […],” says Lyon. “We have all read about obesity issues, the effects of drug use, smoking, healthy sexuality, mental health. The lack of physical activity, the strength of today’s illegal drugs, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, strokes, heart health, STIs—these all directly result from one’s lifestyle.”
In April 2013, a new system of checkups was introduced to make the annual checkup process faster for the benefit of both patients and doctors. The Ontario Ministry of Health no longer funds annual physicals; instead, “periodic health visits” have been implemented.
Rather than a head-to-toe examination and several lab test, patients are asked questions and advised on health behaviours, immunizations, and possible tests.
The HCC used to offer and encourage annual well-being visits, but switched to PHVs after the change and encourage students to visit even when they don’t have access to a family doctor, for example if they’re “far away from home”, as health education coordinator Chad Jankowski puts it.
The PHVs concentrate on a patient’s lifestyle. “I prefer the change a lot—it’s kind of like having a quick catch-up with your doctor,” says Jaya Krishnan, a third-year psychology student. “Your lifestyle does influence your health. Especially during your first year, when you’re not really ready for the transition to university, you start putting your grades before yourself and end up under a lot of stress.”
Jankowski sums it up best: “Some of the best things that support our physical, mental, and emotional health are often the first things students cut out. So as stress increases we tend to cut out sleep, we tend to cut out eating, we tend to cut out healthy active living, and those are some of the biggest things you can do to maintain your physical, mental, and emotional health.”