By the time they graduate from Yale, most students have become familiar, at one point or another, with the plastic benches and the crumpled magazines in University Health Services’ first floor waiting area. There, in the halogen glow, sit the fatigued, cough-racked and occasionally bloody. Fill out the form, state your problem and take a seat.

But when more particular health issues arise, the procedure at UHS — commonly called “DUH” — becomes more complicated. Appointments must be made and referrals received. Waits can be long, and finding the right physician becomes more important. Many students say they are puzzled about insurance coverage and availability of care, even whether they should go to UHS or Yale-New Haven Hospital.

“I don’t think many students haven’t dealt with their own health,” Christine Millerick ’04 said. “I don’t think they are very well-educated [about their options] at all.”

Outside the realm of Urgent Care and Student Medicine, UHS offers a full range of specialty departments that many at Yale never fully explore. Whatever the issue — whether gynecological or dermatological — it can usually be addressed at UHS.

Some students, like James Huerta ’05, have regular appointments in a specialized department at UHS. Huerta gets a shot in the Allergy Department every month.

“My experience there has been very good,” he said. “They are very friendly.”

Mental Health and Counseling and Gynecology are open to all students enrolled in Yale University at no charge under the Yale Health Plan Basic coverage. Other departments, such as Allergy, Dermatology and Optometry, which are not covered under the Basic plan, are available to students with the YHP Hospitalization/Specialty Care Coverage or with another accepted health plan.

Huerta has been going to the Allergy Department for two years. But for first-time patients, finding the right specialist and getting that first appointment is often the most difficult part.

Students inexperienced at navigating the more complex divisions of UHS are often surprised by the appointment procedures and put-off by unsatisfactory sessions.

Patient unrest

When you’re in the depths of depression, two weeks can feel like a lifetime.

But two weeks was the amount of time it took one Pierson senior to get an appointment with a counselor in the UHS Mental Health and Counseling Department. When she finally got a time slot, she said, the counselor was distracted and distant, and even answered the telephone during the session.

“They obviously have an overwhelming load [of students],” she said. “Maybe they are just desensitized to seeing the same thing over and over.”

Gynecology and Mental Health, free to all students, are “by far” the most trafficked of UHS’s specialty departments, Director of University Health Services Paul Genecin said. Both departments offer emergency sessions for patients in dire need of a physician’s or counselor’s aid.

Despite the large number of patients, Genecin said UHS strives to provide “unhurried, unrushed care.”

James Perlotto, chief of Student Medicine at UHS, said it is a constant struggle to balance patients’ need to have adequate time with their physician with the pressure to see as many patients as possible. Because Mental Health appointments tend to be lengthy, the wait is generally longer. In some departments, a two-week wait period is excellent. Perlotto said the UHS Dermatology Department has the shortest wait in Connecticut — two to three weeks, versus a state average of four months.

When wait periods are cut down, other problems can arise.

One senior said she felt like she was rushed through her first gynecology appointment. She said the practitioner did not ask her questions about her sexual history and tested her for chlamydia and gonorrhea without informing her.

Catherine Halaby ’04 said she thinks gynecologists should ask college-age women all the requisite questions, “the whole deal.”

David Roth, chief of Ob/Gyn at UHS, said he and the other physicians in Obstetrics and Gynecology have a full schedule of appointments every day, and he does not like to keep his patients waiting too long. But he said the doctors do everything in their power to make sure a patient’s needs are met, even occasionally scheduling a second appointment if they think there is a need.

“We try very hard to give good attention and a good exam, with the realities of everybody’s constraints,” he said.

Achieving UHappinesS

In order for students to receive the care they are expecting, Perlotto emphasized, patients need actively to communicate with the physician or an assistant before the appointment.

“It’s really important for the patients to be very proactive, and to say upfront, ‘I have something serious I want to talk about,'” he said. “We try and judge [the care we will give] based on any description a student gives ahead of time.”

Millerick agreed that a proactive approach is the best way for students to get the care they need at UHS. This is a lesson she said she learned after four years of experimentation and discovery. For students who have never dealt with their own health before, health care in college can be trial by fire.

“Your best bet is to ask around and demand to see someone else until you get someone with whom you are comfortable,” she said. “You can get good care from different specialists by word of mouth, more than relying on the departments.”

Persistence also helps. Genecin said a patient can always request a different practitioner.

And many students, like Sarah Jane Selig ’06, have good experiences with the physician they get on their first try. Selig described her clinician as “motherly” and said she plans to request the same clinician for her next appointment.

“I think she asked the right questions, and I got my little card in the mail saying I was disease-free,” she said. “She was very much someone you would trust.”

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