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The Diabetic's Guide to Going to College

Going off to college is thrilling, scary, and exciting. If you have diabetes, now is the time to take more responsibility for your healthcare. You need to find a new doctor and a new pharmacy, let roommates and teachers know how they can help, and try to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It might seem overwhelming at first, but by planning ahead and breaking things into small steps, the transition will be easier than you think.


Yes, It's Scary

Going away to college for the first time can be a bit scary for any freshman, but it's often downright terrifying for students with diabetes (as well as for their parents). We won't spend time spelling out those fears, as they're likely quite evident to everyone involved. Instead, we'll focus on things you can do to be smart about the transition.
It may feel daunting, but you can handle this! Remember you won't be alone in this transition -- you'll have doctors, nurses, pharmacists, your parents, and many others to help you. Keep reading for some easy, plan-ahead strategies that can help set your mind (and your parents' minds) at ease.

Line Up Your Healthcare Team Ahead of Time

Make an appointment to see your hometown doctor at the beginning of summer before you leave. Let your doctor know that the purpose of your appointment is to get ready to go off to college. In some cases, your hometown doctor might prefer to still take part in managing your healthcare, with the help of your college clinic when needed. Or, your doctor might want to hand over care completely to your new doctor.
In either case, you'll need to do the following things during your appointment:
  • Get prescriptions for all your medications and testing supplies to last at least until you can get established with a new doctor and a new pharmacy. Don't plan on having your parents fill the prescriptions at your hometown pharmacy and mail them -- insulin is temperature sensitive and doesn't do well in the mail sometimes.
  • Get a copy of your medical record. You can also ask to have it sent to your new doctor or clinic, if you know who that will be.
  • Ask your doctor if you might need a different (perhaps more flexible) insulin regimen for college, since college life is often less predictable than high school life. If a change is necessary, it's best to start it a few months in advance to make sure it's working for you.
  • Have a frank discussion about alcohol with your doctor. Let's face it, drinking is a part of college life, and people with diabetes need to be especially careful about drinking. If you feel like you can't have this discussion because your parents are present, talk to your new doctor about it once you arrive on campus.
The next step is to choose your new doctor or clinic, if you haven't done so already. It might be your college's clinic (if they have a good one) or it might be an off-campus doctor. Make sure your new doctor is covered under your insurance (get your parents' help with this step if necessary). Then call and set up an appointment for shortly after you arrive for college.
As we mentioned earlier, it's best to have a pharmacy in your college town. However, you can wait to select your new pharmacy until you've moved in. Pick one in a convenient location. Go there in person, give them your information so that you're "on file," and ask them for help making sure you'll have access to your prescriptions when you need them. You might need some prescriptions transferred from your old pharmacy, and you might need some prescriptions sent over from your new (or old) doctor. Let them guide you in this process.
Most importantly (and we cannot stress this enough), do not wait until you are almost out of a medication before starting the process of getting more, especially the first time at a new pharmacy. Get the ball rolling when you've got about 7 to 10 days' worth left.
Even though you can get blood glucose testing strips (and even some forms of insulin) without a prescription, don't plan on doing so, because it will likely be very expensive. In order to get your strips and insulin covered by your insurance, you must have a prescription.
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