What happens when a Stanford student gets sick?

Robyn Tepper
Robyn Tepper

Robyn Tepper, a clinical assistant professor who has been medical director at Stanford’s Vaden Health Center since 1997, talks about how the university becomes aware of students who might be ill and offers advice to parents and guardians about how best to help their students stay healthy at Stanford.

What happens when a Stanford student living in the residences becomes ill? Who knows and what services does the university provide?

Residential staff – resident assistants or resident fellows in particular – are typically aware when students become ill. They generally have a very good handle on what is going on in their residences and they keep an eye on students. They can help direct students to the care they need, whether that student needs simple self-care measures or access to a higher level of medical care through Vaden Health Center or Stanford Hospital.

Students and residential staff also have access to medical advice from a Vaden physician 24/7 to help with decisions around medical issues. If a student does need to go to Stanford Hospital for a serious injury or illness, Vaden has a Continuity of Care Nurse who will reach out to students to offer help with follow-up care.

Generally speaking, how quickly can a student who feels ill receive care at Vaden Health Services?

Stanford students have many options to be seen at Vaden, depending on what is going on.

First, we offer the VadenPatient Portal 24/7, where students can schedule appointments in medical services to be seen when Vaden is open. If they do not see any available appointments over the web, then they can call us. Second, if students need to be seen urgently, they will be scheduled that day at Vaden or offered other campus services, depending on what type of care is needed. Third, students who walk in to Vaden with acute injuries or illnesses are evaluated at that time and provided appropriate services. Also, if they need medical advice, students can call to speak to a nurse during the day. And they can also securely message a clinician they have seen to ask advice about a non-urgent medical condition. If the need is for immediate mental health crisis help, our Counseling and Psychological Services has on-call clinicians available any time.

What about medical care when Vaden is closed?

When Vaden is closed, students can speak to the Vaden physician on call after hours for urgent medical advice. If they need to be seen immediately and Vaden is closed, parents and guardians should be reassured to know that nearby are Stanford Express Care, which offers primary care services for non-urgent situations, and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) Urgent Care, which offers extended hours for urgent care. And, of course, the Stanford Medical Center Emergency Department is right here on campus. These services are billed to the student’s insurance provider.

In other words, there are many medical services available to members of the Stanford community on campus or very nearby. Access to care is generally not a problem. Sometimes, however, it can be challenging to convince a young adult that he or she needs medical care or that he or she should rest and stay home from classes until an illness passes.

What does the university do to try to diminish the chance of widespread illnesses in the residences?

Residential staff – peer health educators, residence assistants, resident fellows and residence deans – are well connected to us. We have a long-standing system at Stanford that tracks illnesses circulating in the dorms so we can intervene early. For instance, the student peer health educators might notice a cluster of students who are ill. They are trained to do that. Once they report that cluster, we’re able to access what is going on and whether intervention is needed. An intervention may include hygiene kits, education or extra cleaning services, when appropriate. Also, we strongly encourage all students to receive vaccinations for seasonal flu every year. We provide flu vaccine at no charge.

What is the relationship between Vaden and the Stanford Hospital (Stanford Health Care) and School of Medicine?

For one thing, Vaden physicians have faculty appointments through Stanford’s School of Medicine. Vaden clinical staff, including physicians, psychologists, nurse practitioners and physician assistants are credentialed by Stanford Health Care.

Also, when students are given specialty referrals and consults, they are generally sent to Stanford faculty, and most laboratory and imaging tests are performed at Stanford facilities. We also have Stanford specialists who see students at Vaden, although those services are billed to their insurance.

What advice do you have for parents and guardians?

First, make sure your student is fully immunized. Preventable infectious diseases are on the rise globally. Infectious diseases spread easily in dorm-style living environments. Many students will also want to study abroad while at school, which is an additional health risk that can be minimized by proper immunization.

Second, make sure your student has adequate health insurance that works at Stanford. Most students will need specialist visits, lab tests or X-rays during their time here. Make sure your insurance will cover the costs adequately, so they can easily receive needed services. Provide them with an insurance card, if they will not have Cardinal Care (Sept. 15 is the waiver deadline for Cardinal Care). For additional information about health care coverage at Stanford, see Student Health Matters.

Third, encourage them to explore our Wellness and Health Promotion Services, so they can have a more fulfilling experience at Stanford. They will discover that wellness is much more than the absence of illness.

Fourth, encourage your student to be fully engaged in campus life. Education is enhanced when students are involved in groups, clubs and other activities. Feeling connected and involved will help them flourish.

Finally, encourage them to get help early. If they are struggling physically, academically or emotionally, there are many support systems on campus (CAPS and Wellness).