5 Steps for Managing Diabetes on Campus
Tips for making college a safe and healthy home away from home
1. Find a Doc.
Well before you get to college, find a diabetes care team near campus. Your current pediatrician or endocrinologist may know of nearby doctors, nurses, and diabetes educators. Or reach out to your local American Diabetes Association office for referrals, says Paul Madden, MEd, the Association’s director of type 1 and type 2 diabetes programs.
Plan to get to know the folks at your campus health center—and make sure they get to know you, Madden says. Students, not their parents, should call ahead of their move to introduce themselves as someone with diabetes. Then, within a couple days of school starting, visit the health center and share information about your diabetes, such as medication and insulin dosages, and perhaps bring backup insulin vials or pens to store there. This serves two purposes, Madden says: If you run low on insulin in your dorm room, it may be easier to walk to the health center than get to a pharmacy. It also makes you a familiar face with your care team on campus.
2. Build a Security Network.
The people you live with—roommates, resident advisers, and resident directors—should know you have diabetes, says Christina Roth, CEO and founder of the College Diabetes Network, an online and in-person network of college students and alumni with diabetes.
It’s wise to teach your roommates to administer glucagon in an emergency. Alternatively, Madden suggests telling them, “If I can’t safely drink something sweet—not alcohol!—please call the health center or 911.” Help them understand (and remember) by printing and distributing diabetes information sheets and medical emergency cards.
College might be a time for getting to know people romantically. For safety’s sake, you should be able to talk to your potential partner about diabetes and what could happen if you go low. “If you’re not comfortable saying that, you might not want to hook up with someone,” Roth says.
3. Mind Your Meds.
If you’ll manage your medication on your own for the first time and have the security of a dorm’s “safe packages” policy (which requires packages to be held and signed for at a desk), Madden recommends using a mail-order pharmacy. You can get a three-month supply at once, with automatic refills, without visiting a pharmacy. If you’re close enough to visit home regularly, you may instead choose to fill your prescriptions there. Check with your doctor and insurance provider for how to get pump or continuous glucose monitor supplies.
4. Focus on Food.
Most schools are required to post dining hall nutrition facts, either online or in person, Roth says. And most campuses have a registered dietitian or director of dining services who is happy to hear from students with requests for changes such as on-site labeling or healthier food options. You can work together with others in the College Diabetes Network to make such requests. But if the school can’t meet your needs, Roth says you can make a request to amend your meal plan, spending less there and supplementing with groceries you keep in your room. But beware of the late-night run for unhealthy fast foods. Sure, you can have a slice of pizza, Madden says, if you know how to manage it and your blood glucose.
5. Know Your Rights.
Students with diabetes are legally protected from discrimination—but they have to disclose their diabetes to the proper authorities. The campus disability office or advocate is the person to start with. Isabella Moreno, MA, interim director of the Office of Disability Services at Oberlin College in Ohio, says the office can be a student’s greatest asset, but students (not their parents) need to make themselves known. Disability services can ensure you get proper accommodations, such as a fridge in your room specifically for storing both healthy foods and insulin; priority seating; the ability to use medical devices or eat permitted snacks in classrooms; and even breaks during timed exams. The office can draft the information you’ll need—but you’ll have to share that with your professors. If you do face discrimination, every campus has an Americans with Disabilities Act 504 coordinator, a legal advocate for your rights on campus.
What About HIPAA?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act ensures patient privacy. If you’re over 18, your parents will not be able to get information from your doctor or diabetes care team without your consent. If you decide to give your parents access, make sure to have the proper forms signed before you leave for campus.