Beginning Another Year in College Health:

My Back to School List of Reminders

By Carol J. Mulvihill, RN-C, Editor of CQ,and Director of Health Services, University of Pittsburgh at Bradford,

As I begin my 23rd year in college health at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, I reflect on the things that are so important in this business of caring for students. Whether students are new or returning, young or old, nice or not so nice, I remind myself that they are the reason I am here. Here's my "back to school" list of reminders:

Wear a Smile
A sincere smile and a welcoming attitude work wonders in meeting and greeting new freshmen and upper class students as well. Conveying an approachable, caring image for the health service is important. Although this is an ongoing process, I make a special effort at the beginning of each year to establish credibility with the new students. My mother told me that you only get one chance to make a good first impression.

Keep the Antennae Up
Particularly at the beginning of a new school year, I try to "keep my antennae up," to be sensitive particularly to the needs of new students. Attention to non-verbals... the student's facial expression and body language... may be more revealing than the verbalized reason for the visit. Both are noteworthy. I remind myself to be sensitive and to listen to the whole person, not just to their words.

Be Friendly Yet Professional
Friendly professionalism is the image that I strive to convey. College health professionals take particular pride in their ability to do this well. But it can only be done by caring staff, who remember who they are and why they are there. Some students become our "friends," but I remind myself that I am first a professional. I don't think it is appropriate for staff to use vulgar language or to engage in gossip about faculty or staff in order to relate to students "on their level." I feel a responsibility to initiate another level of discourse, by friendly yet professional conversation and interaction with students...both inside and outside the health center.

Don't forget kindness and patience
I remind myself to always be kind and patient ...when students are quiet and don't speak up, as well as when they are rude and outspoken. It's easy to be nice to people when they are courteous. The real test of our professionalism comes when students are less than courteous. I have yet to meet a seventeen or eighteen year old who demonstrates perfection in their relational skills. I don't even know a 40 year old professional who doesn't make mistakes in this department! So I remind myself to cut students...and staff... some slack. (Faculty are a different story...ha!ha! just kidding!) I make an effort to be tolerant and forgiving, and guard against getting peaved by the little irritating things when they occur. Nurturing a healthy sense of humor helps me take things in stride. "Like water off a duck's back," is a good slogan for me to remember. I'm going to write it on a stick-up note with a smile face underneath.

Get Enough Sleep
My fatigue must not become my patient's problem. The first few weeks back after being off most of the summer can be a real adjustment for me. I've got to discipline myself to get the sleep and nutrition I need for optimum functioning. This is easier said than done, and it is probably my biggest pitfall. I admit that I run a lot better on a full tank of ...sleep!

Slow Down and Handle Stress
When I feel stressed or pressured because students are three-deep in the waiting room and I still have 10 charts to do, and the noise from the corridor and office next door are distracting, I must remind myself that I have no excuse for acting hurried, hectic, or busy, and that each student still deserves the best that I can give...whether they are the first or the tenth patient of the day. And I can do it ... one student at a time.

Savor the Positive
Beginning this year, at the end of each day, I will bring to mind the good things that happened, and spend more time pondering the positive and less time focusing on and rehashing the negative things. Maybe I can give my perfectionist tendencies a rest!

Develop An Attitude of Gratitude
Working in a college health is a very gratifying and often challenging experience. Working with students is certainly never boring. Sometimes it is demanding and frustrating. But the negative experiences are few and far between when considered within the greater context of a college health career. Always, to me, the caring is a calling. I'm resolved to respond rather than react to it. I'm thankful for the opportunity to work in such a wonderful profession, and once again I pray for the strength to meet the challenges as I start my 23rd year in college health at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford.

Return to the list of articles in the Fall 1996 Issue of CQ.