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Annual Doctor's Visit, Vaccination Updates, Mental Health Checks Recommended for Students

by and on August 07, 2014 6:40 AM

Summer is a great time to bring your son or daughter to their primary care physician for an annual visit, which typically includes an evaluation of physical health.

"It doesn't necessarily need to be before school," says Caryl Waite, a physician assistant with Mount Nittany Physician Group Pediatrics. However, this is the time of year Waite's practice sees most of its patients because it's usually more convenient than during the school year for both the patient's and parent's schedules.

During these visits, Waite the patient's physical health will be evaluated. This includes an examination to check weight, height, hearing and vision. Any needed lab work will also be done to screen for things like high cholesterol if there's a family history of that. In addition, any necessary vaccines or boosters are also usually given at this time.

"The school requirements ... begin with the core vaccinations at infancy and generally are completed by age 2," says Dr. Lela Brink, a pediatrician with Geisinger at Gray's Woods. Certain vaccine boosters are also recommended about every five years.

"People have all kinds of feelings about vaccines," Brink says. "I respect (parents') ability to make decisions about their families."

"We understand that people want what's best for their kids," Waite says. "Some reasons patients choose not to get vaccinated can be because they are sick or going on vacation. Or they might just not be mentally in a place to do so." There is always the option for patients to go back in to get what they need at a later time.

If a parent or guardian isn't comfortable with their son or daughter getting certain vaccines after discussing it with their primary care physician, they can request a waiver from their school.

Brink encourages all of her patients, whether they are getting vaccinated or not, to still attend all of the well-child checks, which take place every year to two years depending on the child's age. Not all of the well-child checks are required for school, but Brink suggests them as they are a way to identify issues, like possible developmental problems.

"But I think trying to prevent or trying to address early any behavioral, emotional or educational problems, especially in the elementary school adaptive years, are really important," Brink says.

While many may think that this is the best time to address the physical health of your child, many area pediatricians are also taking the time to evaluate their patient's mental health and discuss stresses.

"I really do think vaccines are one thing to talk about when children come in," Brink says. "It's a reason to get them in the office. But I think a bigger reason is to address the growth and developmental issues in the adaptation to schools and new environments."

Whenever a patient comes in, Waite says that both they and their parent or guardian, if they are attending, will receive a checklist that asks about things like depression, loneliness, relationships with friends and other similar social and mental health questions.

Brink says it helps if her patients come in with specific questions or concerns, if they're having any.

"I always tell my patients, especially adolescents," she says, "when they're worrying about their bodies and changes, is to try to make a list. When you walk into the doctor's office, you forget all of those things you wanted to ask."

Brink also thinks it's important for parents to be tuned in to anything their child might be going through.

"One of the things I tell my parents are that the most important job we have in life is making our children feel comfortable about who they are. Everyone is different. Especially if you walk to the beat of a different drum or if your priorities are different than who you go to school with."

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This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Brittany is the staff writer for The Centre County Gazette.
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