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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Think before you get sick

Schools vary greatly in medical care and health plans - something you should consider when deciding where you want to study.

By Tara Perkins
The Globe and Mail

There couldn’t have been two worse weeks for Amy Rymes to be sick. During her first year at Queen's University, Ms. Rymes spent both frosh week and winter exam week curled up in bed.

The timing was awful, but she thinks the experience could have been much worse had she been anywhere other than Queen's, the university that got top marks for health care in the University Report Card survey.

“If I were to rate my experiences with Queen's health care compared to other health-care centres I've been to, I would give them a nine out of 10,” she says. “Same day and walk-in appointments are always available.”

Queen's health care focuses on fast access and providing continuing care, meaning the same student sees the same physician whenever possible, says Mike Condra, director of health services. The school offers all the services of a family doctor as well as many geared to students, such as travel counselling and immunization, he says. Queen's has five to seven physicians on duty a day, plus seven nurses.

McMaster University, ranked second, is making accessibility a priority as well. It will have six physicians on duty a day, compared to four last year, and is hoping to offer same-day appointments.

Of equal importance to students is having a good health-care plan on campus. Ms. Rymes says most of her friends opted to pay into the Queen’s plan, even if they were still covered under a family plan. “The Queen's plan is often better,” she says.

Queen's Alma Mater Society runs undergraduate plans for health and dental. The AMS health plan costs $104.14 a year. With it, students receive an immediate 80 per cent discount on prescription drugs, 24-hour out-of-country coverage, as well as coverage for extras such as chiropractic care and physiotherapy.

Agata Wisniowska is envious. She's a student at the Glendon campus of York University in Toronto, which doesn't have a health plan or its own clinic, even though the main campus has both.

Prospective undergrads who don’t think health care is an important factor when choosing a university should take note of her experience.

“They don't provide any health care service, you have to find your own way,” Ms. Wisniowska says. “It's really annoying because most people want it.” She says she would be happy to pay for a health care plan in her tuition. “I don't have dental, health, prescription. My family is self-employed. I pay.”

In January, Ms. Wisniowska forked out about $300 for prescriptions when she got sick. Soon, she will have to have her wisdom teeth out, but she doesn't know how she can afford it.

By contrast, students in the survey stressed the importance of facilities such as Queen’s. “That's really important,” says Ms. Rymes. “They have bulletin boards full of health information and countless flyers on current health issues, from healthy eating strategies to sexually transmitted diseases, that are helpful to students. It makes you feel like they know what you're going through.” ROBTv Workopolis