For Liz Middleton GRD ’12, the most stressful part of beginning the school year wasn’t moving to a new city, finding her way around campus or trying to make new friends; it was getting a prescription for birth control at University Health Services.
“I called [UHS] immediately after matriculation and tried to get an appointment for my yearly gynecological exam so I could get birth control renewal for September,” Middleton said.
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But the earliest appointment she could obtain was for the end of October, which would put her several months behind in her supply of birth control. Upon receiving her class schedule and finding that she had a conflict with her appointment, Middleton attempted to reschedule, but was told the next available appointment would be in November. After calling repeatedly to check for cancellations, Middleton was finally able to secure an October appointment.
“It was a very stressful start to the year — the wait was prohibitively long compared to Dartmouth,” said Middleton, who graduated from Dartmouth College in 2006.
Many students interviewed said they had faced similar problems in obtaining appointments at UHS, with some claiming week-long waits for routine Student Medicine appointments and much longer wait times with more specialized departments, especially when trying to get prescriptions for birth control. But UHS officials said the recent delays are due to a few temporary problems that should be resolved soon, and students can guarantee themselves more immediate care if they learn to successfully navigate UHS.
Jefferson Stewart ART ’07 said that although he encountered few obstacles in getting an appointment for basic care, his girlfriend has had a more difficult time getting birth control from UHS. Stewart said he thinks college-aged students should have more readily available access to birth control.
“When I was at [Washington University in St. Louis] you could get same-week gynecological visits,” Stewart said.
Other students also reported somewhat lengthy waits for appointments in other departments.
Michael Cantrell ’09 said he was dismayed by how long he had to wait this year to begin his physical therapy sessions after he injured his shoulder. Because physical therapy is a lengthy process, Cantrell said, he was eager to start his sessions. But he had to wait two weeks for the earliest available appointment.
According to a survey conducted by the Yale College Council last school year, undergraduates were dissatisfied with the wait times at UHS, specifically in the gynecology and mental hygiene departments.
Officials at UHS said the seemingly long wait times are due to a number of factors, some temporary and some relating to a lack of knowledge among students about the student health system.
UHS Director Dr. Paul Genecin said the facility sees a peak in demand at this time of the year. Additionally, he said, UHS is in the midst of transferring its paper medical records to an electronic system, which could be slowing down UHS clinicians. But Genecin said they still succeed in seeing “acutely ill” patients within 24 hours.
Genecin detailed upcoming plans to make UHS more accessible to students. One such plan, which will be implemented after spring break, is to assign clinicians within the Student Medicine department to each of the 12 residential colleges so that undergraduates will have a specific person to contact with their medical questions and concerns. Genecin said this will be an extension of the existing Yale Health Online program, which allows students to schedule appointments and get non-emergency medical information through a secure server.
But the most effective — though unofficial — way to get more immediate medical attention at UHS is for students to be more assertive about their health care, Genecin said.
“Sometimes young people … are not sure how to be effective when someone says, ‘I can’t get you in until three weeks from now,’” he said. “I want people to understand that [UHS] is a dynamic system. We never want a student to come away frustrated. We want to help them to get their problems solved.”
Genecin said students who are not satisfied with their wait time after speaking to a UHS receptionist, or who are unwilling to detail their medical problems to a receptionist, should ask to speak to a triage nurse.
But Middleton said that even after explaining the urgency of her situation and the fact that her birth control would run out before her appointment at UHS, she was unable to get an earlier appointment time.
Specifically addressing the problem of long delays for birth control, Genecin said UHS recognizes that students need the medication soon after they call in, not months later. The current wait for an appointment to be prescribed birth control is approximately three to four weeks, he said. Genecin again stressed the importance of speaking with a nurse in order to get a better appointment time.
“If the time frame of the appointment doesn’t feel right, and you feel as if there’s a miscommunication with what you think is the urgency, talk to a nurse,” he said.