Student Health and Counseling Services: Keeping you healthier, a little wealthier, and wise

By Toria Bodden: Features Editor

The beginning of the academic year is a great time for both new and returning students to learn about services offered by CSUSM, especially ones that can not only keep you healthy, but also keep a little more money in your pocket.

Student Health and Counseling Services (SHCS) is located directly across Twin Oaks Valley Road at 120 Craven Road.  It’s within easy walking distance of campus, and offers a significant amount of health services for free, or at reduced prices, to students. I got a chance to sit down with Dr. Karen Nicholson, SHCS’s medical director, to talk about how SHCS can help you as a student.

PRIDE: What would you say are the most important services offered here?

DR. NICHOLSON: Well, the most common thing we see students for are issues surrounding family planning and sexual health… We have a free services program called Family PACT. It provides family planning to students who qualify, both men and woman. That could be free pap smear, free birth control, free STD screenings for women. For young men, it can include free STD screens and condoms.  It’s our third year of providing Family PACT. (For more information about the program and to find out if you qualify, stop by SHCS and talk to the Family PACT registration coordinator Monday through Thursday from 9am to 11am or 2pm to 4pm, Friday from 9am to 11am.). We see a lot of headaches, sore throats, upset stomachs… We also see a lot of students for depression and anxiety. If students have stress or depression, we refer students to our counseling section, which is part of this center. We have three staff psychologists and a part time psychiatrist who can prescribe medication.

What do you think is the most important thing for students to know about SCHS? Something that you would want incoming students to know?

As a registered student, students can see medical providers and counselors for free, with the exception of the psychiatrist. If a student needs to come every day, there’s no co-pay. There are some charges for labs or medications, but not all of them. It’s also good for students to know that we have a registered pharmacist on staff, and we carry a lot of over the counter medications at significantly reduced prices for students. We also look for ways to help students save money on their medications. They’re not obligated to use our pharmacy. We’ll tell you if a medication might be cheaper at Walmart or Costco.

So why would students with health insurance come to SCHS?

Sometimes, it’s just more convenient to come here. If students who have insurance see us, there’s no co-pay. If they need a prescription, sometimes they can submit the receipt back to the insurance company to be reimbursed. (WRITER’S NOTE: The Family PACT program offered by SHCS mentioned earlier can also help students who have insurance, but need confidential sexual health services outside of their insurance.)

Tell me about SCHS providing vaccines. I know you were sending out e-mails left and right when people needed the H1N1 vaccine last year.

We offer a lot of vaccines. We’ll have the flu shot in early fall, no later than the end of September. We’ll advertise the dates of the clinics. This year, the regular flu shot and H1N1 vaccine will be combined in one shot. It was about $10 for students to receive the seasonal flu vaccine last year, and it’ll probably be about the same this year… We also have the vaccines for Hepatitis A and B, Tdap which is the tetanus shot, the meningitis vaccine, MMR, and Gardisil, the HPV vaccine that has now been approved for use in both men and women. . All of our vaccines are $65 or less, except Gardasil. It’s $120 per shot, because it’s so new.

So, what about H1N1? I’ve also heard about whooping cough starting to be a problem in elementary and high school.

We’re in contact with the county and we help them manage any potential outbreaks, so we’re well prepared for anything. Most of the stuff people are hearing about whooping cough in the media is happening to little kids. However, we do know that adults can spread it to children, so we mostly want to make sure students who work with kids are immunized.

What about emergency services? Do you have any advice for students if they have an emergency?

We don’t have an emergency room here, and we don’t offer urgent care. We are in a good location, though, with emergency response teams on both sides of us, that can transport students quickly to either Tri City Medical Center or Palomar Hospital… We do have same day appointments, though. These aren’t for life threatening emergencies, but they’re for urgent problems that happen overnight. We keep these appointments blocked off until the day of the appointment. Typically, even in non-urgent situation, people can get appointments in one to two days. The wait for counseling appointments does get longer as the semester progresses.

One last question, since I know this is information that may be very important to both our male and female readers. What are your resources for dealing with sexual assault?

If any student is the victim of a sexual or physical assault, they can come here for an initial evaluation, which will include a conversation with one of our police officers. We’re not a sexual assault response team (SART) center. The closest one is at Palomar. However, between clinical help and counseling support, we do everything we can to help the student. There’s also a new webpage from the Women’s Center website about sexual assault advocacy that may help students (

Well, Dr. Nicholson, thank you so much for your time.

You’re very welcome.

For more information about SCHS and its services, check online at or call 760-750-4915.

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