The Student Health Center has lost the trust of many students with frustrating procedures for making appointments and a lack of accessible resources for health crises — a claim that has become a particular concern in the wake of a campus-wide health scare surrounding a case of bacterial meningitis confirmed two weeks ago.
Bacterial meningitis is a disease that requires immediate treatment, as emphasized by the university after meningitis was confirmed on campus, but some students, exhibiting a variety of symptoms in non-related instances over their time at Georgetown, have found that immediate treatment is difficult to attain at the health center.
The Student Health Center advertises walk-in appointments for students with pressing medical needs.
“Students without an appointment and who have urgent problems will be offered an assessment by a nurse or clinician during office hours,” the health center’s website states.
However, students have had difficulties scheduling last-minute appointments at the Student Health Center, even since the meningitis scare.
After feeling sick for over two weeks, Jenna Galper (COL ’17), decided to seek treatment from the Student Health Center last week, only to be faced with a lengthy wait period.
“I was pretty sick. I’d had a pretty bad cough for two weeks and was worried that I might have a fever, but I was on hold for about half an hour and they told me they couldn’t see me for two days,” Galper said.
According to Galper, health center personnel made no attempt to evaluate the severity of her case before turning her away.
“They didn’t actually ask me anything about what I was feeling,” Galper said.
Instead of waiting for an appointment with the Student Health Center, Galper decided to go to a CVS Minute Clinic, where she said she was able to see a doctor and fill a prescription within an hour. Galper said that she would not consider going to the health center in the future.
“I just thought that was kind of ridiculous and I didn’t want to be this sick for another two days,” Galper said. “I didn’t want to mess around with my health, especially given everything that’s happened.”
Jackson Smith (COL ’16) went to the health center about two-and-a-half weeks ago after feeling physically ill for a morning. Smith said that this instance was a recurrent symptom of an ongoing illness, so he decided to go to the health center, but could not get an appointment until late the next day.
“Since at that moment, I wasn’t super sick, they said I couldn’t get an appointment,” Smith said.
Smith said that although he was not exhibiting urgent symptoms while he was at the health center, he felt that it was probable that he would become sicker before his appointment the following day. The health center did not offer him an alternative for immediate treatment.
According to Assistant Vice President for Student Health Services Jim Welsh, the health center is supposed to determine how quickly students get appointments based on the severity of their illnesses.
“The Student Health Center triages appointments with the information they are provided over the phone or in person,” Welsh wrote in an email. “If a convenient same-day appointment is not available and a student wishes to be seen, a nurse will triage the student that day at the Student Health Center and will then recommend a later appointment, schedule a same day appointment that may require staff and physicians to work beyond scheduled hours (overbooking) or recommend an emergency visit in critical situations.”
According to Smith, the health center did not evaluate the severity of his symptoms when he went in to make the appointment.
“They were really pressing, like, ‘If you’re not about to be sick in some way, shape or form, right now, you can leave,’” Smith said.
Smith became ill again over the weekend and opted not to seek treatment from the health center.
“I was deciding whether to go to the Student Health Center or not … but I was like, ‘I’m not going to sit there with the possibility that I might get turned away again,’ so I just went to the hospital,” Smith said.
Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson said that he was not aware of any specific reports from students about difficulty in scheduling appointments.
“With just about every office on campus, you can find students that say, ‘I wanted to get in but they couldn’t see me at the time I wanted,’” Olson said. “I’m not saying there’s never been a complaint, I’m just saying I’m not aware of particular complaints this semester.”
According to Welsh, the health center keeps a large percentage of the day open for urgent issues.
“Appointments are offered out of convenience for students — first to make sure patients can access the Student Health Center when they are sick, and second to allow students who are experiencing an illness to avoid long waits to be seen,” Welsh wrote.
Caroline James (COL ’16) said that she has also had difficulty scheduling timely appointments with the health center on multiple occasions.
One morning during James’s freshman year in 2012, she woke up with severe shoulder pain. When the pain began to limit her from performing everyday activities, she sought an appointment from the Student Health Center.
“It was getting to the point where I couldn’t type. I couldn’t sleep,” James said. “I called the health center, saying, ‘I’m in incapacitating pain, and I can’t even do my schoolwork. When can you see me?’ And they said in three weeks.”
After being unable to schedule an immediate appointment with the health center, James called the physician on call at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. The physician referred James back to the Student Health Center, and when James explained that she could not get an appointment, the doctor suggested that she take Tylenol.
“I ended up just having to wait it out. I was in pretty bad pain for about a week, and then [the pain] went away on its own. But that was a week that I was struggling,” James said.
According to James, when she called the health center, the person she spoke with did not make an attempt to evaluate the severity of her injury.
“It kind of felt like because it wasn’t an illness, they dismissed it a little bit more, because it was an injury,” James said. “In that case, it didn’t really feel like they asked all the right questions.”
Last year, James tried to schedule an appointment with the health center again when she was experiencing a sore throat.
“My tonsils were really inflamed so I asked to schedule [an appointment] and they said the usual, which is that they could see me in two weeks,” James said.
Since scheduling an appointment over the phone was not successful, James went to the Student Health Center the next day, and was able to be seen by a doctor after about half an hour. James said that although her appointment went well, she tries to avoid going to the health center when she is sick because of her past experiences.
“I try everything I can to not have to go to the health center,” James said. “If I can wait it out, I figure that I should try.”
While James was able to see a doctor when she went into the health center, other students have not had the same experience.
Julian Graham (COL ’17) was unable to be seen for a same-day appointment when he went into the health center last January with a shoulder injury, which turned out to be a strained rotary cuff that he had sustained while playing rugby. He went in on a Monday, and was not able to schedule an appointment until Friday.
“The painfulness of my injury compelled me to take the Friday appointment even though it involved missing a class discussion,” Graham wrote in an email.
Graham had previously experienced a similar situation with the Student Health Center.
Last October, he called the center after injuring his knee, but had to wait over a week for an appointment.
Graham said he was able to receive proper treatment during his appointments, but that he would consider other options before going to the Student Health Center in the future.
“Although the costs are greater, in the future I would go see a private practitioner for anything that wasn’t mundane,” Graham wrote. “The time it take to get an appointment is very inconvenient and potentially detrimental to patients depending on their ailments.”
Jonathan Espinoza (COL ’16) said that he went to the Student Health Center on Aug.22 to schedule an appointment to see a general physician and refill a prescription. Although Espinoza’s concern was not urgent, he said that it was still an inconvenience, as he had to wait almost two weeks to get an appointment.
When Espinoza went to his appointment Sept. 5, he had to wait an additional three hours past his scheduled time to see a doctor.
Phil Dearing (COL ’15), who goes into the Student Health Center a few times a month for allergy shots, said that he’s satisfied with the center and is understanding of the delays that students sometimes face.
“There are  employees … that are in charge of taking care of the health and well being of 7,000 undergrads, as well as the law school and the medical school. … Therefore, it’s not unreasonable, if you show up that day, for them to have a ton of people who are also sick and showing up that day,” Dearing said. “They are doing the absolute best they can.”
Smith, however, said that he feels that being unable to schedule a prompt appointment with the health center is a hindrance to students.
“Having to deal with going to the health center and having them turn you away or tell you to come back later just doesn’t seem right,” he said.“Students should be given the top priority.”
Students have made similar complaints in past student media reports about the Student Health Center since its opening in 2003.