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Shifts in medicine and society push growth in student health needs

USC Engemann Student Health Center marks 100 years of student health services with a surprising discovery — and growing resources for Trojans

When health professionals moved to the new USC Engemann Student Health Center from the former University Park Health Center in 2012, they took a mysterious concrete block marked with the words “Student Health Service 1951” with them.

Only in June, though, did they crack the block open. Turns out it was a time capsule, and the timing for its discovery was perfect: It contained documents showing that USC offered health services as far back as 1913 — 100 years before the official opening of the Engemann Center.

The Engemann Center’s providers had nearly 100,000 patient visits last year — a threefold increase since 1995.

Student health services at USC are marking their 100th anniversary, and they’ve come a long way, even within the last two decades.

Major changes in demand

When physician Larry Neinstein took charge of USC’s student health center in 1995, the clinic’s pace was relaxed. Most students commuted to the University Park Campus, which grew quiet after dark and on weekends. Today, however, nearly all undergraduates live on or near the campus, and they look to the university as their primary support network.

The effects on student health services are enormous.

In 2013, the 175 or so physicians, nurse practitioners and other staff members working at the Engemann Center handled nearly 100,000 patient visits, said Neinstein, the center’s executive director. That’s a threefold increase since 1995.

The services they provide have also changed. Muscle sprains and stomach flu are still common, but these days care providers also see chronic illnesses including cancer, congenital heart disease, severe diabetes and cystic fibrosis. Thanks to medical advances, young adults who a generation ago would have been too sick to leave home are now attending college. The demand for mental health services has also spiked, and providers see a greater focus on wellness and health promotion. The center plans to launch a five-year student health and wellness initiative this fall.

“It’s a whole new world,” said Neinstein, professor of pediatrics and medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and assistant provost of student health and wellness. “The need and expectation for services on campus have increased.”

Colds, cuts and questions about wellness

Rising junior Sydney Fishman, an environmental studies major from Chicago, appreciates what it means to students.

Larry Neinstein

Larry Neinstein shows documents found in a time capsule at the USC Engemann Student Health Center. (Photo/Courtesy of USC Engemann Student Health Center)

As a peer health educator, Fishman volunteered at least two hours a week in the center’s Student Resource Room last school year. Here, students can drop in for a cold-care kit, read up on the perils of the “Freshman 15,” or ask questions about safe sex or any other wellness issues.

“It’s not threatening like a medical office would be,” Fishman said. “It’s a warm, inviting environment. And it’s absolutely beautiful.”

The center brings together all student health services under one roof, and students can easily access their health records and make appointments online. They also can use easy check-in kiosks, and a smartphone app is on the way.

Walk-in visits are welcome. Most services at the Engemann Student Health Center are covered by the student health fee of about $272 per semester. Some services that previously were charged — such as immunizations or screening laboratory tests — are now covered under the university’s student health insurance plan. The coverage, Neinstein notes, is relatively inexpensive — at $1,712 for this school year, it’s a third to half the price of plans at other top schools. The center also hosts meditation and yoga sessions and wellness workshops, and services include acupuncture and chiropractic as well as medical specialties.

Said Fishman: “It’s a great thing for the campus.”

The USC Engemann Student Health Center, in conjunction with the USC Trojan League, will hold a celebration of its 100-year history on campus on Oct. 23.

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Shifts in medicine and society push growth in student health needs

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