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2013 Fall Issue 2 (October 4, 2013)

Is Student Health and Counseling Understaffed?

October 4, 2013
By Ben Strauss

Two years ago, Student Health and Counseling (SHaC) underwent a makeover.  It changed its name from the Wellness Center, extended its weekly hours, increased its medical staffing, altered its reception staffing, and introduced electronic medical records.  While SHAC may be an improvement from the old Wellness Center, many students feel SHAC still has much to fix.

“They try their best to provide the services we expect of them,” said Hiyanthi Peiris ‘15, the Carleton Student Association Senate Liaison on Student Life, “but at the same time, I know that many students have been concerned about limited hours.”

Students’ chief concerns are with understaffing at SHAC: the lack of weekend and evening hours, the unavailability of a psychiatrist for appointments and difficulty finding appointment times in general.

The ratio of counselors to students at Carleton could dispel these concerns. While small liberal arts colleges have an average ratio of one counselor for 912 students, Carleton has one counselor for every 550 students, significantly better than average.

Carleton also has more students seeking counseling. On average, nine to twelve percent of students seek counseling at small colleges. Twenty percent of students at Carleton sought counseling last year.

“We’re significantly better staffed then many college campuses and we see a higher percentage of the student body than many other college centers see, so we are adequately staffed,” said Merit Lysne, Director of Student Health and Counseling.

Still, this positive picture does not fully reflect the student experience.  “In most people’s experience just having to get an appointment is a really difficult prospect and trying to set up multiple appointments per term is almost impossible,” said Emily Bauer ’14.

Students express dissatisfaction at the lack of weekend hours. “I know lots of people who got sick over the weekend so they have to go into town and that’s inconvenient if you are sick,” said Reid Whitaker ’14, co-founder of the Mental Health Awareness Collective.

Almost no other college health or counseling center has weekend hours and students can access medical services in the Northfield community at all hours and Carleton offers evening/ weekend crisis phone counseling services.

The availability of the psychiatrist at Carleton further concerns students.

“Psychiatry is in demand everywhere and there is a limited number of psychiatrists especially in more rural areas; Northfield in itself has only one or two for the Northfield area,” said Lysne. Indeed, only sixty percent of colleges and universities provide some psychiatric services to students.

However, while students recognize the budgetary constraints, they usually can only receive the right medication for disorders after repeated visits to a psychiatrist.  Otherwise, “they may not be getting the medication they need at the dosage they need,” said Bauer.

While Student Health and Counseling does not have waitlists, unique among health and counseling facilities at colleges and universities, students have difficulty finding a time for an appointment. “Its hard to find time if you have classes or labs or other activities that you have to do during that time,” said Whitaker.

However, students should find an appointment without skipping class. “There may be times students have to switch some things around to accommodate the schedule; some students just don’t want to do that but that’s the students’ choice,” said Lysne. But, she made it very clear that students should never skip class to attend an appointment.

Student Health and Counseling does always try to improve its services and best help students within its budget constraints. Recently, Student Health and Counseling adopted electronic medical records to facilitate student visits. “We are always looking for ways to improve our services,” said Lysne.

Peiris considers it an important issue for her as the representative of student life on the CSA Senate. “I raised it to [CSA Senate] and I have spoken to [CSA Senate President Mathew Fitzgerald] about it and I addressed SHAC too not in an official capacity just as another student,” said Peiris.

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