Champions for Student Health

New director increases opportunities for college wellness

by Lynn Bolt Rosendale ’85
Spring 2013

Back in the late 1940s major health concerns on Calvin’s campus included tuberculosis, polio vaccines and apprehension over an unknown but possible epidemic outbreak. At that time there was no health service on campus and no plan in place for dealing with emergencies or a rampant contagion.

In 1950 a committee, which had been assembled to study the possibility of a health service program on campus, urged the board to initiate “Health Service” as soon as possible. “There is a close relation between a student’s health and his scholastic achievement,” the report stated. Also: “With our growing population, it is probable that the incidence of contagious diseases will be on the increase unless we take preventive steps.” And finally, “We have a responsibility to the parents of our students, especially those whose children come from distant homes.”

It was determined that a health service program could be instituted for a fee of $2.50 per semester per student. So, in the fall of 1953, the health center opened its doors in the basement of the men’s dormitory on the Franklin campus at a cost of $900 for the facility.

“It was really quite simple then,” said Dr. Larry Feenstra ’50, who worked half a day a week at the health center. “We saw people for colds, sore throats, problems with their feet, that kind of thing,” he said.

Mary VandenBosch Zwaanstra ’58, who served as the full-time nurse from 1959–61, said: “It was kind of a homey approach to medicine. We sometimes would go to the dorm rooms to check up on students. Before the health center, there was no entity on campus that made it their business to help students find medical care; they were pretty much on their own.”

Six decades of change

Much has changed in the last 60 years: health care has become infinitely more complex and expensive; major health concerns have shifted to include depression, asthma and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD); students have become global travelers requiring immunizations and other comprehensive care; and expectations of constituent groups, like parents and students themselves, have been raised.

What has largely stayed the same is the mission of Calvin’s health services to provide excellent care and promote lifelong health amidst the college community.

Calvin’s newest partner in that mission is Dr. Laura Champion, the first doctor to serve as director of health services for the college. Champion came to Calvin in 2011 from private practice, where she was completely content.

“I received a phone call from the search committee asking me to apply for the open position at Calvin,” said Champion, a 1991 graduate of San Diego State University and 1996 graduate of the University of Washington School of Medicine. “As I read through the job description and learned more about Calvin, I couldn’t believe how much our mission and vision overlapped; I couldn’t think of anyone better to take the job even though I had no previous thoughts of leaving my practice.”

Medical doctors serving full time as directors of college health services are relatively rare, according to Champion. More common is a nurse or nurse practitioner serving as director, as had been the case for the past 30 years at Calvin. Both Judy Eppinga, serving until 1998, and Nancy VerMerris, until her retirement in 2011, helped build a strong foundation for excellent health services at the college.

“It’s actually a pretty big change for us having a physician on campus,” said Shirley Hoogstra, vice president of student life. “Laura is an example of a person listening to a vocational call. It’s what happens when a person catches a vision for what God might be doing in her life, and she follows the nudge of God’s calling.”

Having a doctor in charge of student health allows for seamless medical care, according to Hoogstra. “Laura has admitting privileges to hospitals and is able provide follow-up care upon discharge,” she said. “She can make rounds at the hospital and serve as the liaison for students.”

Champion is also able to unravel the complexity of international student care, Hoogstra added. “We had a life-threatening situation with some students from Norway this year,” she said. “Laura was able to make rounds with the students every day and follow up with them back here at Calvin. It’s a situation where the students might have had to go back to Norway, but they were able to stay at Calvin, and Laura was able to coordinate all that care.”

A passion for serving students

For Champion it’s all about the commitment she has toward young people and providing excellent care to them: “It’s the way God made me,” she said. “He allows me to be passionate about whatever is in front of me. Once I have a student in the room, I just have to find a way to get them better.

“And in this situation we have the opportunity to educate students about their health. We don’t just treat their heartburn with a pill, we coach them about how to eat better so they don’t need to continue the medicine lifelong. The opportunity here is so unique.”

It’s a passion shared by the rest of the health services staff. Barb De Weerd Mustert ’88 has served as a nurse in Calvin’s health services for 18 years.

“We used to be seen as a ‘see me for a cold’ kind of place,” said Mustert. “We have evolved into a comprehensive care office. We can do anything a doctor’s office can do; we want to be the place students come to for all of their health needs.”

Mustert’s role as travel nurse has grown along with Calvin’s burgeoning off-campus program department. Immunizations for students’ global travel, along with other health care concerns that arise for traveling students, are Mustert’s focus. She also meets with every incoming international student to explain how American health care and insurance works and to verify their immunizations.

“We like to think of ourselves as an education facility, too,” said Mustert. “We complement students’ education here by teaching them about health, about taking care of themselves and about how health care operates in the real world.”

New facilities provide visibility

The relatively new Hoogenboom Health Services, located inside the remodeled Hoogenboom Health and Recreation Center, is more visible and therefore more visited than prior to 2009, when health services was located in the basement of Heyns Residence Hall.

“Students walk in and say, ‘This is just like a doctor’s office’ because it is,” said Jayne Deur Pettinga ’75, a nurse practitioner with health services since 2005. “We are really comprehensive and efficient in our health care,” she said. “We have more space to accommodate more students; we have a procedure room, a medication dispensary and a small lab.

“Once students know about us, they say, ‘Why would I go anywhere else?’”

That’s the thought Champion would like to have all students asking about their health care.

“We want to be their home-away-from-home health care while they are here as students,” she said. “We don’t want to take over as their primary care physician if they have one back home, but we want to adopt him or her while he or she is here. We want our students to build a relationship with a provider here, so that we’re not just putting a Band-Aid on a real problem and sending them out the door.”

This is an innovation among college health centers, according to Champion: “We are the first college in the community to join the system in e-sharing.”

And the newest development, and perhaps most game changing for Hoogenboom Health Services, is the ability to significantly improve reimbursement to students for the cost of their care. Because of Champion’s unique ties to the local health care network, she has been awarded status as a primary care physician for the campus, which will eventually allow her to bill insurances for care, something that was not previously possible.

“This is huge,” said Champion. “It keeps costs lower for students and the college, but it makes it possible for just about any student to see us here and get the same coverage they would if they were going elsewhere.” (This initiative is so new, it hasn’t been introduced at health services yet.)

“I have found myself becoming so passionate about Calvin and what we can do,” said Champion. “Students experience so many state-of-the-art programs here; it seems every department is this way. I just want to be sure that student health care also offers students every opportunity to excel.”

Lynn Rosendale is managing editor of Spark.