Photo: Emily Long
I remember my last visit to the pediatrician’s office. I was 18. I had been going to the office yearly and seeing the same doctor since I was born. I was so excited to be heading to college. I got the last vaccine for meningitis that I needed, and I was OFF! I went to Ithaca College to study biology with a pre-med concentration. I was free, independent, and clueless about my health.
Sound familiar? I cannot recall anyone telling me that now I was in charge of my own well-being. Now I needed to find my own doctor and take responsibility for myself. Sure, I was responsible with going to class, keeping up my GPA, paying my rent and cable bills. But my body? I can say with certainty that I did not have a regular physical during my four years of college.
Next I went to medical school in New Jersey at the School of Osteopathic Medicine. I had a physical at the school’s primary care office before I started and had vaccination titers drawn to make sure I was immune to standard infectious diseases. I do not recall a discussion about health maintenance or safety, other than what to do if I happen to get stuck with a needle during my four years of education. I studied hard, decided I wanted to enter a residency in family medicine, and I learned all the intricacies of disease and treatment for others, who I deemed “sick,” around me. I felt good, had no problems that I knew of, and thus continued to ignore myself.
I attended the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School Family Medicine and Community Health residency program in New Brunswick, N.J. Again, I went to the designated employee center to check out my immunity against infectious diseases. I got the same lecture about needle sticks. Here was the difference: as a resident, I was in charge of my own patients, coming up with treatment plans and goals for them. I especially loved taking care of women and specialized through a women’s health track program during my residency training. I loved discussing lifelong plans for fitness and birth control and preventative medicine. I became interested in my own health during this process and started taking better care of myself as well as my patients.
I am very blessed to have joined the Center for Women’s Health where I now see my patients and come up with road maps for their well-being to guide them through a lifetime of healthy living. I work to prevent problems before they arise and focus on the person as a whole. What an empowering thing for women to truly understand and feel in control of their own health and have plans to optimize it during their lives! If only I knew at 18 or even 21 what I know now…
So now here is my list of what I think is important for your roadmap to health, wherever you are, in your quarter life (ages 21-35):
- Annual physical with discussion of the following with your doctor: blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, thyroid disease, weight, vaccinations (including the vaccine to prevent cervical cancer), depression and a skin exam. The necessity for blood work will depend on your age, personal history and family history.
- Gynecologic exams- This includes a breast exam, as well as STD screening (including gonorrhea, Chlamydia, HIV, syphilis). Discuss birth control options and condom use. Cervical cancer screening should start at age 21 and complete at least every three years under age 30 based on your results. Over age 30, this may be spaced to every 5 years based on your results, which should include HPV testing once you are 30.
- Skin health — Wear at least SPF 30 daily, especially on your face. You have all heard the horror stories of skin cancer in this age group. Consider solar wear protective clothing on days you will be out in the sun for prolonged periods.
- If you are smoking, QUIT! And never look back.
- Start taking folic acid 0.4-0.8 milligrams daily. All women of reproductive age should do this to prevent birth defects in pregnancy. Do this even if you use contraceptives regularly — nothing is 100 percent effective. This can also help with metabolism and red blood cell production.
- Speak up to your health care provider if you are in an unsafe home situation, including physical, emotional, verbal, and/or financial abuse, as well as gun safety.
- ALWAYS wear your seatbelt! And no texting while driving. If you ride a bike, remember your helmet. Accidents are still a leading cause of death in this age group.
- Start exercising for heart health! Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the U.S. You should be doing at least 150 minutes of sweaty exercise per week. Even 10-minute walks count!
- Start monitoring your calcium intake — it should be 1000 mg per day through dietary sources, not through supplements. This will help with lifelong bone health.
- Ensure you are getting at least 400-800 IU of vitamin D daily. Again, for bone health.
Find a doctor that you like in an office where you feel comfortable and can speak openly and freely about all your concerns without feelings of judgment. Go every year for a head-to-toe physical and discussion of what is important to your current health based on your personal and family history. There are primary care doctors who can complete your gynecologic exam as well, so you can go to one place to have everything done. You may also choose to divide and conquer — see your primary care doctor for your annual physical and an OB/gyn for your gynecologic exam.
I am happy to report that I am now up to date on my maintenance health care. Exercise, vitamins, and preventative measures have become my close friends. I now feel in control of my body and love giving my patients this same direction every day as well.
All information contained herein is the opinion and view of the writer. It is intended to provide helpful and informative material on the subjects addressed and is not meant to malign any company, organization, religion, ethnic group, or individual. Readers should consult their personal physicians or specialists before adopting any of the recommendations or drawing inference from information contained herein. The writer specifically disclaims all responsibility for any liability, loss, risk — personal or otherwise — incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from the use and application of any material provided.
Please note: This information was current as of its post date. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. Please see your physician for the most up to date information.