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My Take on University Health Services Being Useless

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Wisconsin chapter.

 If you want quality and timely medical care you should look elsewhere

University Health Services at the University of Wisconsin Madison and many other college campuses are a positive bonus for students. However, once students are attending the institution, University Health Services are unveiled as a broken system. This ultimately leads to students suffering from illnesses longer since they cannot receive medical treatment as well as worried parents struggling to find options to help care for their children away from home. Compounding these issues is students not receiving proper medical care in quality or timely manner leads to them spreading their sickness throughout roommates, lecture halls and many other areas continuing the influx of illness outbreaks on campuses. Overall, University Health Services time and time again have failed the student population, and parents have claimed it has been their biggest disappointment with their child’s college.

Specifically looking at the University of Wisconsin Madison campus, in-state students are charged $761 for ‘additional fees’ listed in their tuition breakdown every semester. Out of this amount $240 goes directly to funding University Health Services to the student population. However, some services require an additional fee that can reach upwards of $150 per visit per student. This is seen specifically in X-rays, casting materials and medications to name a few. With all of this funding, considering the large undergraduate population at a BIG-10 school such as UW-Madison, one would assume that UHS would provide quality care. Unfortunately, most students report being met with belittling and belligerent healthcare staff. When students try to advocate for their health, they have reported being dismissed by their providers at University Health Services and sometimes even being told that they are imagining their symptoms. 

Despite the cost, UHS continues to have an astronomical wait time to be seen for appointments. Primary care appointments currently have a wait time of two weeks minimum. Many students need same-day or next-day appointments when they are dealing with harsh sicknesses. With flu season, COVID-19 rates increasing and many other illnesses spreading rapidly on college campuses, students are needing care and medications at a timely rate. However, students are struggling with sicknesses and over-the-counter medications are not effective in alleviating their symptoms. Eventually, once students are able to get an appointment, they are often misdiagnosed and sent home with no treatment options. The rate of misdiagnoses at University Health Services in Madison continues to be rapidly increasing. Student testimonials have stated that providers have refused to complete an X-ray leaving them walking on a broken foot for weeks, or have been told they just have a common cold when it was later concluded to be a severe bacterial infection requiring immediate antibiotic intervention.

Mental health care continues to display University Health Services’ inability to serve the needs of their student population. Students are known to struggle with the transition to college, roommate disagreements, the stress of exams and much more, requiring them to seek out mental health care provided to them through their university. However, many universities have a minimum of a month waitlist for all of their providers. Students are in a very vulnerable position while being at college making mental health care access critical for their success and overall well-being. Even when students are able to meet with a mental health professional, universities only allow students to make appointments with this provider once every one to two months. UW-Madison places an additional restriction on mental health care for students stating that a student can only meet with a mental health care provider a maximum of 20 times while enrolled at the university over the span of 4 years. This means that mental healthcare can only be utilized by students 5 times a year if they need support for all four years of college.

Considering many universities’ inept ability to support the physical and mental health of students on their campuses, students and their families have started to look elsewhere. On UW-Madison’s campus, a service known as Pivotal Health, serving the Dane County area, has become increasingly popular among students and their families. Pivotal Health sends qualified physicians to a student’s home and they provide comprehensive healthcare on the spot. In the comfort of the student’s home, they can perform tests, complete X-rays and evaluate symptoms. Reviews from students and families are overwhelmingly positive with Pivotal Health as there are available appointments in a reasonable time frame, including weekend care, and accurate diagnoses that enable students to improve their symptoms. Pivotal Health takes many different kinds of insurance as well and if one’s insurance carrier is out of network they charge a $169 service fee for the house call, diagnostic materials and treatment. This raises the question if student fees charged in their tuition for University Health Services should be optional if they can be better used elsewhere such as Pivotal Health. 

University Health Services on college campuses continue to take on more than they are capable of. Instead of increasing the number of practitioners they have, eliminating student fees directed to covering their services or fixing their systematic errors, they continue to leave students in a vulnerable state and parents in an anxious position. Unfortunately, university services are failing in an inexcusable way: they are sacrificing the health of their students. Student health should be a college campus’s number one priority, however, outrageous appointment wait times, constant misdiagnoses, hidden fees and a limited number of appointments, all put the student’s well-being at risk. Universities need to no longer put students’ health low on the totem pole as this should be priority number one.

Kate O’Leary

Wisconsin '23

Kate is currently a senior at the University of Wisconsin Madison majoring in Biology, Psychology and Sociology. She is the proud co-president of Her Campus Wisconsin. Kate enjoys indoor cycling, spending time with friends, cheering on the Badgers and making the absolute best crepes ever!