Getting kids college-ready

August 21, 2015

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Every August, area high school graduates pack up their clothes and computers and head off to college. Whether they are traveling 2 miles or 2,000, the emotional distance is what’s most important, as they move from dependent teen to independent undergraduate. Susan Brill, MD, chief of adolescent medicine at The Children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s University Hospital, believes in preparing her patients for this great leap forward, both medically and mentally.

Most incoming college students need their physicians to fill out medical history forms, conduct a pre-registration physical exam and confirm that all required immunizations are up to date. Dr. Brill takes that occasion to go over anything the young adult may need to know about managing chronic health conditions such as asthma or diabetes. “If they are on medications, we talk about how they will obtain them at college and what to do if they have an acute health issue,” she says. “Saint Peter’s has an online portal with access to their electronic medical records, so I make sure the kids know how to use that if they need medical care at college. I also make sure they are able to reach me at any time, if necessary.”

While most 18-year-olds don’t have serious ongoing physical health concerns, almost all have some anxiety about leaving home. “Some can’t wait to leave, while others feel more uncertain,” says the doctor. “Some have never been away before. Most are a little ambivalent, feeling excited about taking the next step and at the same time a little scared. And that’s healthy.” Even students who will live at home and commute to class will face new challenges and new freedoms.

Dr. Brill takes the time to discuss several “big topics” regarding college life. The first is alcohol and drug use. “The data around first-semester freshman alcohol use is astonishing,” she says. “Many kids are completely unprepared to handle the amount of drinking that is routinely encountered at college.” She gives her patients a brochure detailing facts about drinking and the dangers of alcohol poisoning and sexual vulnerability that come with it.

“Navigating sexuality is also big,” she says. “Many young people are surprised at how open hook-ups are in college. There is more pressure to be sexually active. I counsel them that college can be a time for sexual exploration, but that it should be done safely and without compromising one’s values.” With openly LGBT (Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender) patients, she discusses making sure there is a like-minded community on campus where they can feel comfortable.

She also talks about basic health issues such as getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, stocking a first-aid kit, and even personal hygiene. “Kids often get so caught up in college life that they forget these things,” she says.

Dr. Brill finds that most of her college-age patients are essentially well prepared, but she sometimes refers more anxious patients—and their parents—for counseling. “Parents may need help with their feelings and expectations, too, especially for the first child they are sending off to college—or perhaps the last,” she says.

           She calls her college-prep counsel a “value-added service I provide. My patients are not coming in for this, but it is stuff they should hear,” she says. “Most of the time all is fine, and I tell them, ‘I think you’re ready.’ But sometimes they need a little extra help to prevent a crash landing.”


Photo Caption: Susan Brill, MD, chief of adolescent medicine at Saint Peter’s Healthcare System, advises a student about preparing herself for the college launch.

About Saint Peter’s Healthcare System
Saint Peter’s Healthcare System Inc. parent company of the Saint Peter’s healthcare delivery system, is comprised of Saint Peter’s University Hospital, a 478-bed acute-care teaching hospital; Saint Peter’s Foundation, the fundraising arm of the hospital; and Saint Peter’s Health and Management Services Corp., which oversees the system’s outpatient facilities. These include the CARES Surgicenter; New Brunswick Cardiac Cath Lab; Community Care Services Inc.; the Margaret McLaughlin McCarrick Care Center Inc., a residential skilled nursing facility in Somerset; and Saint Peter’s Adult Day Center in Monroe Township. Saint Peter’s Healthcare System is sponsored by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Metuchen. For more information about Saint Peter’s Healthcare System, please visit or call 732-745-8600.

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