Congratulations, you’ve decided to go off to college! Starting college can be one of the most exciting times of your life. However, if you have a chronic illness you might be concerned about how you will adjust to your new college environment, manage your illness and workload, all while making new friends. It is important to plan out this transition to make sure you have access to the tools and resources you need to stay healthy and succeed! Here are the top 7 tips to help you as you go off to college:
- Create a transition plan with your rheumatologist: A successful transition to college starts with planning with your rheumatologist and health care team as early as possible. It is important to talk about how you are doing clinically, review your treatment plan, arrange for follow-up care, and discuss how you will be getting your medications during the school year.
- If you are moving away for college, establish care locally: Ask your current doctor to recommend a rheumatologist close to your school. You can also ask your college’s health center for a rheumatology referral. Once you have identified a new rheumatologist, make sure to call well in advance to set up an appointment. It is very important to share your medical records with your new doctor and ask your current rheumatologist to talk with your new doctor before your appointment. Be sure to keep a copy of your medical records with you as well.
- Plan for medical emergencies: Identify a local academic hospital that provides rheumatology care in case of emergencies. Keep a list of medications with you at all times and consider obtaining a medical alert ID. Write down and share your emergency plan with a trusted roommate, friend and/or Resident Assistant. Be sure to identify a family member or support person who you can call as well.
- Make sure you have health insurance coverage: If you already have health care insurance under your parents, you may remain on their plan until you are 26 years old. If you need your own health insurance, many colleges offer a student health insurance plan, which may fit your needs. You can also choose to apply for health insurance in the state you go to school through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Read more about your coverage options here.
- Explore resources at your school: It’s important to reach out to your college’s Office of Accommodations/Disabilities in advance to inform your school about your medical condition. This office can work with you to arrange for any accommodations needed whether it’s more time for assignments and exams, more accessible housing, or potential skipped classes due to doctors appointments. Your Student Health and Wellness Centers are also valuable resources for on-campus medical attention and mental health care.
- Stay in touch with loved ones: No matter where you’re going, stay connected to your loved ones who have helped you get to where you are today. Transitioning to college can be stressful. Being able to talk to someone you can trust, whether it’s a relative or friend, can help you problem solve and feel heard. Keep in mind, if you are feeling consistently overwhelmed, anxious or depressed, you can always reach out to a mental health provider who can help. When classes start, do not be afraid to meet people and build your new network of support!
- Connect to a lupus community: There are lupus-specific support programs and organizations throughout the country that are committed to supporting people with lupus and their families. Some organizations may also have support groups, such as Charla de Lupus (Lupus Chat)®, where you can meet peers who share similar experiences as you. Getting involved in your lupus community can help you feel more connected and hopeful. Remember, lupus does not define you, so go show the world you who are!
Reviewed on August 9, 2019
Melissa Flores, MPH, LMSW, is the outcomes manager for the Department of Social Work Programs at Hospital for Special Surgery.