Preparing your child to go back to school can be a hectic process. In the midst of buying new clothes and school supplies, it is important to remember that scheduling a back-to-school physical exam is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your child is ready to begin the upcoming year.
Annual physicals allow a physician to stay up to date on a child’s health as he or she grows and give parents and children a valuable opportunity to ask questions. A back-to-school exam can provide the perfect opportunity to ensure your child is current on his or her vaccinations. Many schools require children be vaccinated against diseases ranging from the measles and mumps to chickenpox and tetanus before they can begin classes. While most vaccinations are administered before the age of two, an annual visit to the family doctor ensures your child is up to date and aware of new vaccines that protect against diseases such as meningitis.
Developing a relationship with a family doctor can help shape a child’s health habits as he or she enters adulthood. Annual physicals help doctors recognize developing medical issues before they become serious. One example of this is eyesight. Research has linked poor eyesight with poor performance in the classroom. Common eye problems that could be easily corrected with glasses or contacts may result in poor grades and classroom frustration.
Another important role of a family doctor is to stay connected with his or her patients and be familiar with their health history. If a patient is admitted to the hospital, the family doctor can provide valuable insight and supporting medical records that may lead to more informed treatment decisions.
As children become teenagers and begin to deal with new social and physical issues, an annual checkup gives them a chance to discuss subjects they may not feel comfortable addressing with parents. These topics include smoking, drugs, alcohol, sex, and sexually transmitted diseases. A doctor’s input on such subjects can serve as another positive voice in the life of a child to point him or her in the right direction.
Here are a few things parents can do to make the annual back-to-school physical more productive:
• Bring along any health documents you received from the school. Schools often provide a list of vaccinations and other requirements that students should have based on their age. It’s important to discuss this information with your child’s doctor.
• Sit down with your child and prepare a list of questions for the doctor on topics ranging from nutrition to sports injury prevention.
• Make note of any unusual behavior you have noticed in your child. Family doctors often have a great deal of experience with children at every stage of development and can shed light on whether behavior is natural or cause for concern.
An annual physical exam can be a beneficial visit for you, your child and your family doctor. Be sure to include it as part of your back-to-school routine each year.
By Ashley Pence, DO
Pediatrics, UPMC Susquehanna Williamsport
Dr. Ashley Pence is a pediatrician with UPMC Susquehanna Williamsport. To schedule an appointment, call 570-321-2810.