Photo by Steve Cohn

When physician Lawrence 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.

Last year, the 150 physicians, nurse practitioners and other staf members working at the new USC Engemann Student Health Center handled more than 94,000 individual patient visits, says 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 clinicians 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, as substance abuse, anxiety and depression skyrocket among young adults.

“It’s a whole new world,” says 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.”

The Engemann Center’s opening nearly a year ago has attracted attention on and off campus.

Last June, the building was featured on the cover of the Journal of American College Health, the field’s premier periodical, as an example of advanced, integrated services. “We have one of the leading student health facilities and programs in the country,” Neinstein says.

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

As a peer health educator, Fishman volunteers at least two hours a week in the center’s Student Resource Room. 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 says. “It’s a warm, inviting environment. And it’s absolutely beautiful.”

The center brings together all student health services under one harmonious roof. Technology throughout the four-story complex eliminates many hassles of health care. A student-friendly health records portal, online appointment system and easy check-in kiosks (a phone app is on the way) make communication a snap. Walk-in visits are welcome. Most services at the Engemann Student Health Center are covered by the $262 semesterly student health fee. 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 $1,519 a 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.

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

The USC Engemann Student Health Center was made possible through a $15 million gift from Roger and Michele Dedeaux Engemann. 

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