It started with one physician working one hour per day in a one-room infirmary in 1917. Now, the University Health Center is an 111,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility with 13 clinics where approximately 400-600 patients are seen each day.
The UHC, a department in the Division of Student Affairs, will celebrate its century of service throughout the 2017-2018 academic year. A kickoff event for the 100th anniversary was held Aug. 18, and a gala, originally scheduled for Sept. 12 and postponed due to Tropical Storm Irma, was held Nov. 2.
“Today, we celebrate the University Health Center’s 100th anniversary,” UGA President Jere W. Morehead said at the Nov. 2 event. “This milestone achievement recognizes our world-class health center, which complements the world-class learning environment that we are building at the University of Georgia.”
The location and facilities may have changed through the decades, but the mission remains the same. For Dr. Jean Chin, executive director of UHC, it’s as simple as this: “Exceptional students need exceptional heath care.”
“The bricks and mortar have changed. The names have changed and the faces have changed. But the compassion, the professionalism, the empathy and the commitment to the health and wellness of students—that is the hallmark of health center staffers and caregivers,” Chin added. “That is the thread that ties all of us together through the decades.”
The University Health Center on UGA’s main campus means that students have easier access to health services. Not having to drive to an urgent care facility or wait for an appointment in their hometown allows students to be seen more quickly. Services offered include urgent and primary care services; dermatology; massage therapy; physical therapy; counseling and psychiatry; radiology; sports medicine; and on-site dental, vision, allergy and women’s clinics as well as a pharmacy.
“We absolutely will continue to provide the highest quality student center care and support to UGA students, faculty and staff every single day,” said Victor Wilson, vice president for student affairs. “That is the foundation on which this health center is built.”
That foundation began with the Crawford W. Long Infirmary on Lumpkin Street in 1917. In the early 1940s, services moved to Gilbert Infirmary (now Gilbert Hall, which houses the department of Romance languages). In 1997, the current building on East Campus opened and was expanded in 2009.
“The building is a tool for the various programs,” said Dr. John Curtis, executive director of the UHC from 1968 to 1985.
In fact, Gilbert Infirmary saw several changes in services during Curtis’ time as executive director. He hired the first health educator, started the dental and women’s clinics and expanded mental health services.
Those changes continued throughout the decades. Health services offered on campus eventually shifted from urgent care to preventive care, with a focus on routine checkups and healthy habits to prevent getting sick. Records are now stored electronically for faster and easier access by UHC staff. Students are now assigned to a color-coded medical “team” and see the same practitioners throughout their time at UGA.
“There aren’t many places that offer the breadth of what we offer and the speed at which we offer it,” said Dr. Chadwick Palmer, a physician for Medical Clinic Red and Sports Medicine who also used University Health Services as a student at UGA.
“Here we are today, one of only 17 college health centers in the U.S. to be Joint Commission accredited,” Chin said, referring to the independent nonprofit organization that accredits more than 21,000 U.S. health care organizations and programs. “We are at the pinnacle, I believe, of college health.”
Students who use the center’s services often give back by volunteering on one of seven student organizations that provide education and support on everything from nutrition to body image.
The 21 members of the Student Health Advisory Committee provide a student voice for the UHC. They promote and advocate communications between UHC staff and the student body, address student health concerns, recommend changes in the mandatory health fee, serve on provider search committees and participate in various health center campus-wide initiatives such as mental wellness and health literacy.
“It wasn’t until I got a peek behind the scenes that I truly realized how special this place is,” said Daniel Couper, a fourth-year student in exercise and sport science and SHAC member. “When I joined the Student Health Advisory Committee a few years ago and came to work alongside staff, I realized that the faculty’s dedication to students runs deep, from top to bottom.”
The Healthy Dawg Ambassadors are a group of students who are chosen to represent the health center through outreach across campus. The 20-25 ambassadors selected each year work at the UHC information desk, provide UHC tours, organize outreach activities promoting the health center vision and mission, assist at UHC events and participate in UHC social media campaigns.
“We want to make sure every student here is familiar with the services we provide,” said Brandon Davis, a fourth-year biology major and one of the Healthy Dawg Ambassadors.
Chin expects that dedication to guide the UHC’s next 100 years. She said she’d like to see the center add additional dermatology services; expand the Fontaine Center’s space and increase alcohol and other drug prevention, early intervention and recovery support programs and offerings; and increase space for counseling, physical therapy and massage services.