Ava Jacobi (COL ’09) knew she needed to see a doctor, but it was only after four days of sleepless nights, coughing and wheezing that she made it into an examining room at the Student Health Center.
“I had bronchitis. I called over and over looking for any appointment, and they couldn’t do anything,” she said.
Jacobi is not the only student to have been disappointed by the service at the Student Health Center, which, despite its efforts to improve wait times and staffing in the past two years, has remained a subject of substantial student criticism.
In 2006, the center began to take steps to address these complaints and an increased number of students by hiring new staff and establishing a “sore throat and cold fast track” to free up time for more seriously ill students, according to Student Health Center Director James Marsh.
arsh said that he believes these efforts have begun to pay off.
“In addition, in 2007, we have hired another full-time nurse practitioner, and we have expanded our triage capabilities, which [includes] seeing colds and sore throats,” he said.
“According to our patient satisfaction surveys, which we do at least once each semester, the average wait time from check-in until someone is placed in the exam room is less than 10 minutes,” he said. “That number has improved from last year since we developed a new system of patient flow throughout the clinic and shifting some of the hours that our doctors overlap.”
However, Marsh did admit that the wait can sometimes exceed 10 minutes.
“I know that sometimes people do wait longer than 10 minutes, but that is usually when the clinic is very busy and the clinicians get backed up with someone who is very sick,” he said.
Peter Grasso (COL ’09), a regular visitor to the health center for allergy shots, said that he is usually able to receive his shots after waiting about seven minutes.
Nevertheless, many non-regular users of the health center’s services have expressed dissatisfaction with the service at the health center.
“It was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life,” Austin Uhler (COL ’10) said. “The way the system is set up makes the sick person feel like they’re going through a maze. It should be a place you can go to and just get help right away.”
Caitlin Karniski (COL ’11) said she has refrained from using the health center’s services after multiple frustrations with its service and availability.
“I went to get the [human papillomavirus vaccine], and the first time, they didn’t have the vaccine. And I went back a second time, and they didn’t have room for me. So after that, I just didn’t go back again,” she said.
The Student Health Center decided last fall to stop offering Gardasil, the vaccination against four strains of the sexual transmitted infection HPV, citing financial concerns. Marsh said at the time that the center would prescribe and administer it as long as students purchased it themselves at pharmacies.
Elisabeth Springer (COL ’11) said she had to wait 30 minutes to get her injured ankle treated, well over the 10-minute average wait time given by Marsh.
“I went because I sprained my ankle. I tried to call, but they didn’t pick up, so I walked in, and I waited maybe a half an hour until they took me in,” she said.
The health center has 22 people on staff, 11 of whom are clinicians, including physicians and nurse practitioners, and 11 of whom are nurses, medical assistants, and support and administrative staff. Marsh said this staff serves all enrolled Georgetown students, including graduate students and totaling more than 10,000 students. The health center reported approximately 16,000 patient visits each year.
However, Marsh emphasized that, during the fall and spring semesters, the vast majority of patients are undergraduate students.
arsh said that emergency care is also available from a clinician at any hour. Although a clinician page number is provided on the door to the health center for “urgent care issues,” the sign instructs students to go to the emergency room for emergencies.
“Although we are not open 24 hours, seven days a week, there is always a clinician available on call for emergencies or urgent questions after hours that can’t wait until the next day,” Marsh said.
The student health center at The College of William and Mary, for instance, serves a student body of 7,500. According to Christine Britton, business manager of William and Mary’s health center, although the center serves markedly fewer students than Georgetown’s health center, it employs a larger staff of 25 people, including 16 clinicians.
Britton added that their health center receives very few complaints about wait time or service. “On average, there is normally a three- to five-minute wait after the student checks in,” she said.
arsh said that the Student Health Center holds between 75 and 100 appointments per day, whereas, according to Britton, William and Mary’s health center is able to hold 110 to 120 appointments per day.
The George Washington University health center boasts a 29 person staff including 19 medical staff, 3 adolescent fellows and seven administrators for an undergraduate population of 10,813. Boston College employs 38 persons for their 9,020 undergraduates, including four administrators, 12 health care providers, 15 on the nursing staff, and seven support staff. Villanova University’s health center, though, has a staff of only 17, with three physicians, two nurse practitioners, 10 nurses and two administrators for an undergraduate population of 7,254 students.
In addition, both Boston College and Villanova’s health centers operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Georgetown has a hospital on campus, but Marsh said that he does not think students necessarily choose the services of the Georgetown University Hospital, which has been owned by MedStar Health since 2000, over that of the Student Health Center.
“I think having a hospital on campus actually enhances the services for students. I don’t think it lowers the importance of the health center,” Marsh said. “Having the hospital here also allows us to refer students quickly if they urgently need specialty care.”
While admitting that the health center’s service can still be made better, Marsh added that he believes the center is on the right track.
“We are seeing record numbers of students at the health center,” he said. “And although I know we have customer service problems from time to time, we work very hard to provide good care.”