At a time when health is top of mind, the Student Health Center remains ready and prepared to serve. Located diagonally from the Rock, the Student Health Center provides high-quality primary health care for UT students.
In response to the pandemic, the roles of the center and its staff have evolved to include not only caring for students but also public health surveillance, contact tracing, and acting as an on-campus COVID-19 testing clinic.
“We have diligently worked to implement appropriate adaptations to our usual care practices to ensure student and employee safety in regard to potential COVID-19 exposure risks,” said Dr. Spencer Gregg, director of the Student Health Center. Gregg is also an alumnus, with a Master of Business Administration from UT in addition to his MD.
He serves as the incident commander of UT’s emergency operations center, helping to coordinate UT’s campus response and efforts toward the pandemic in conjunction with the UT System, the Knox County Health Department, the Tennessee Department of Health, and other state and local authorities. Central to that response are the services provided by the Student Health Center.
Compassionate care during a pandemic
One of the biggest changes to the Student Health Center brought on by the pandemic was the addition of telemedicine as an option for receiving care. Students can call a telephone triage nurse to schedule a telemedicine appointment and gain access to medical advice. This option started on April 1, after UT made the transition to fully online courses for the rest of spring semester.
“Telemedicine is a new tool for us, and I think it has been helpful, particularly in dealing with issues where a patient does not absolutely need to be seen in person,” said Dr. Darrell Smith, an internal medicine and primary care physician, who oversees UT’s telemedicine service.
In an effort to be sensitive to patients’ needs and preferences, telemedicine also allows students who may have anxiety for fear of exposure about coming into the health center the option of avoiding that environment.
“I think that telemedicine will be an excellent tool for our clinic to use even after we get past this pandemic, because there are many issues that can be addressed without seeing patients in person,” Smith said.
Additionally, the Student Health Center extended its fall 2020 hours to be as accessible as possible and to address the anticipated increase in demand this semester. In conjunction with its extended hours, the center has added more staff to accommodate its new contact tracing and campus health surveillance programs. Contact tracers work to identify and contact campus community members suspected of having been in close contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Student Health Center is working around the clock to meet the needs of students. The center teamed up with a local health service company to provide an after-hours nurse advice line for students to call when the health center is not open.
“I am very proud of the dedication of our staff, who since the return to campus have had to adjust to an incredible number of changes in our usual means of health care delivery,” said Gregg. “Our staff have been willing to forego on personal and family matters in order to provide the increased access to care that our students need.”
He emphasized that the campus-wide push to be creative, compassionate, and flexible is shown every day at the Student Health Center. “This is the very meaning of being called to a profession—placing the needs of others first. Our health center staff have willingly answered that call,” he said. “We’ve been able to rise to the occasion because of our staff’s dedication to service and what it means to be a Volunteer.”
About the Student Health Center
The center functions as a full-service primary care physician’s office for students who meet eligibility requirements, with specialty practices in acute care, women’s health, allergy and immunization, physical therapy, and other areas. In addition to primary care services, the Student Health Center houses the UT Pharmacy, where students can fill prescriptions and receive certain immunizations, including the flu vaccine.
Students are encouraged to contact the Student Health Center if they feel ill by calling 865-974-5080. A telephone triage nurse will talk to students about their health concerns and establish a plan for their evaluation and care. Depending on the situation, the nurse may provide students with self-care information or advise them to be seen at the UT Medical Canter Emergency Department. The nurse may also help students schedule an in-person appointment at the Student Health Center for further evaluation and care. In accordance with current CDC guidelines, students can be seen at the center only by appointment.
Despite navigating unprecedented times, Gregg is confident and encouraged by UT’s response and commitment to campus safety.
“When I started medical school 35 years ago, I never envisioned I would be involved in having to respond to a global pandemic. Words cannot express how thankful I am to be doing it here, with these people, for this campus,” he said. “The University of Tennessee has been a major part of my life and career. I couldn’t be prouder to be a Tennessee Volunteer.”
Maddie Stephens (865-974-3993, firstname.lastname@example.org)