When and Where to Go for Treatment

Whether you are attending a college or university two miles away from home or all the way across the country, navigating classes and expectations while not feeling your best physically or emotionally can be tough. If you are new to campus or simply managing this for the first time away from a caregiver, the unfamiliarity of what to do can bring an added challenge. Some of these barriers can be managed by knowing when to seek care, where to go for care, and what it will be like when you do go.

Have you ever heard the phrase, better safe than sorry? With physical or emotional health concerns, it’s always good to seek care early on. Waiting too long for treatment can cause further distress or perpetuate your discomfort. You know your body best, so if your intuition is telling you to seek care or if it would make you feel better to get an expert opinion, do so. Campus and surrounding community medical and mental health staff are there to assist you.

Seeking Care for Physical Illness and Injuries

At the first signs of physical illness, self-care like getting rest and administering treatment with over-the-counter remedies can be very helpful at managing your symptoms. In general, if your symptoms are mild and responding to self-administered treatments and your routine is not disrupted, you can most likely wait out your illness to see if symptoms improve or worsen. If your symptoms don’t improve or if they worsen, seek out care.

In addition, the following are some signs it may be necessary to see a medical provider:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Chest pain
  • Fever greater than 100.4 that is not improving
  • Pain swallowing
  • Congestion that won’t go away
  • Headache, face pain, neck pain
  • Lasting persistent cough
  • Difficulty keeping foods or fluids down—vomiting and diarrhea

When to Seek Professional Help

  • You have severe pain and cannot put any weight on the injured area.
  • The area over the injury or next to it is very tender when you touch it.
  • The injured area looks crooked or has lumps and bumps.
  • You cannot move the injured joint.
  • You have numbness in any part of the injured area.
  • You see redness or red streaks spreading out from the injury.
  • You injure an area that has been injured several times before.
  • You have a fever and the area affected appears inflamed (swollen and warm).
  • The symptoms continue for more than a couple weeks without improvement.

For more serious injuries, you may be referred to a sports medicine physician or an orthopedic surgeon. Your health care provider may also recommend rehabilitative physical therapy. You may be anxious for your injury to heal so you can get back to your sport, work, and daily routines, but rushing your recovery can put you at risk for future injury and may extend the healing process. Take your health care provider’s instructions seriously, and don’t put your health at risk by returning to activities too soon.

Seeking Care for Emotional or Mental Health Issues

Determining when to seek care for yourself or others for emotional concerns can be more nuanced because sometimes, you may not easily recognize symptoms. In general, like physical distress, if you are not feeling your best emotionally, or notice a peer is struggling, seeking care early on is most beneficial. One indicator for seeking care is if your feelings and experiences are getting in the way of your ability to function well at school. This could mean a disruption in academics, sleep, social connections or relationships, self-care, or hygiene. Signs of emotional distress and seeking care are covered in further detail in our mental health section.

Where to Go for Treatment

If you are experiencing physical symptoms of an illness or injury, you should seek medical care at your campus health center or community provider. If you are experiencing emotional concerns, you should seek care in your campus counseling center or community health provider.

Some students may feel more comfortable speaking to a medical provider about their emotional concerns. That is ok, too. Medical staff can assist you with identifying additional resources should your concern include symptoms of emotional distress. Many campus models include collaborative care models where medical and mental health care providers consult with and refer to one another. Others have integrated health and counseling centers where all care is all under one roof.

You may have options for seeking care off-campus, depending upon the community surrounding your college or university. This could include:

Individual medical or mental health care providers like physicians, nurse practitioners, medical specialists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. In these instances, you would need to consult with your individual health insurance plan and the providers to determine whether insurance is accepted and costs of care.


Community health centers are generally non-profit entities that provide affordable health care and are partially funded by the federal government to provide care regardless of your ability to pay.


Urgent care centers can be for-profit or managed by hospitals. They offer out-patient care for treatment of illness and injuries and are perfect for non-emergency care. Many urgent care centers accept health insurance, and costs and wait times could be significantly less than a visit to the emergency room.


Emergency rooms or departments offer treatment for illness and injury that are life threatening.

For more information about off-campus services, go here.