If you’ve ever been sick on a weekend and unable to receive help from the Duke Student Health Center, you’re not alone.
Sophomore Jamie Wang has been trying to schedule an appointment for chronic pain around her classes for over a month but has had trouble with limited Student Health hours. The center’s fall hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Wednesday and Friday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, with an hour-long lunch break from 12 to 1 p.m. It is closed on weekends.
Wang noted that the hours of operation are “exactly when students have class.”
"It’s just a really annoying barrier to an already awful thing,” Wang said, referring to her pain.
Sophomore Manny Mokel is also frustrated with Student Health’s lack of appointment availability.
“Just this past week, I finished up class, and I believe that I had an ear infection. I wanted to go to Student Health, but I realized it was 4:15 p.m. and they were closed,” Mokel said. “It doesn't make sense that they were closed because I had class all day. Like, when am I supposed to go?”
Director of Student Health John Vaughn wrote in an email to The Chronicle that he understands students’ frustrations.
“Many of [their frustrations] are related to how significantly the COVID pandemic has taxed our resources, particularly our staff, as we’ve tried to administer the expanded scope of services necessary to provide our students with the safest living and learning environment possible,” Vaughn wrote.
Mokel said this is the third time he has felt sick and wanted to go to Student Health but found it closed on the weekends or after class. He said their hours don’t make sense to him since students have much more availability during weekends and would benefit if Student Health was open then.
“Me and a lot of other people are busy during the day, and nobody really wants to miss class because when you miss class you get even more behind on work,” Mokel said. “So sometimes you'll suffer through class just for the hope that you can go to Student Health after, and then it's closed.”
Student Health used to offer weekend appointments but found that students didn’t book them often enough to be worth the necessary staffing, according to Vaughn.
“Scheduling appointments around students’ class schedules and on the weekend has always been a challenge,” Vaughn wrote.
Due to student demand, Student Health switched to a walk-in system a few years ago. However, according to Vaughn, the majority of students found that the uncertainty of how long they might have to wait outweighed the convenience of being able to be seen without an appointment, so Student Health went back to appointments.
According to the Student Health website, students can schedule appointments in two ways: by phone during operational hours or in-person with a staff member. The center also offers video visits for those who are unable to be examined in person.
Same-day appointments are available depending on demand and time of day, and the website recommends contacting Student Health as early as possible to maximize the chance of getting a same-day appointment. If none are available, students can be assessed by nurses and provided with an appropriate plan of care, such as management of symptoms at home or referral to an off-campus treatment center.
Wang said that the online appointment scheduling has not been available for a long time, which has made it more difficult for her to find a time to schedule an appointment.
“[The online system] just doesn’t work. So you have to call or go in person to schedule an appointment,” Wang said.
Student Health suspended online appointment scheduling 15 months ago in line with Duke Health guidelines. According to Vaughn, the decision was made to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 by ensuring appropriate pre-appointment symptom screening and social distancing in the waiting room.
Although the optimal scheduling system is difficult to find given the diverse needs of the student population, Student Health is always looking for new solutions, according to Vaughn. He wrote that as Duke moves into a post-pandemic world, Student Health will be actively re-evaluating its operations to see where it can enhance student experiences.
“Among other initiatives, we are exploring how we can best expand our nurse case management team to provide more efficient phone triage support for students, looking to add more clinicians to our staff in order to improve appointment access and exploring new ways to expand our telemedicine offerings so that students can see a provider without even having to come to the clinic,” Vaughn wrote.
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Alison Korn is a Pratt sophomore and enterprise editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.