Back-to-school checkups are important – this year more than ever

Small child wearing backpack walks alongside an adult. They are holding hands.

As your child prepares return to campus after a long year of virtual and hybrid learning, it’s also a good time to plan for their annual physical.

Along with vision and dental screenings, kids are required to have a health checkup each year when they start school. It’s especially important this year since many families put off routine health care during the coronavirus pandemic.

This visit is a chance to make sure your child is physically, mentally and socially ready for school. It can help you take care of any unexpected health needs before sports or other activities get in full swing. Your provider can also address concerns your child may have about going back to the classroom while COVID-19 is still active.

Preparing for your child’s exam

Your family may have handled some health concerns through video visits during the pandemic, but back-to-school physicals must be in-person.

Learn more about how we’re protecting patients and visitors during the pandemic.

All of OHSU’s clinics follow COVID-19 safety precautions. To allow for physical distancing, we ask that only one parent come with your child. Please remember to wear a mask and be prepared to answer a few screening questions when you arrive.

At the appointment, your child’s primary care provider will do a physical exam. This includes looking for signs of illness and making sure your child is meeting growth and developmental milestones. The visit also includes vaccinations such as flu shots, lab work, healthy lifestyle counseling and a basic mental health check.

Choosing a provider

Dr. Angela-Tu Nguyen, a pediatrician at OHSU Doernecher Pediatrics Clinic, says that a pediatric primary care provider should perform your child’s physical. These providers have specialized training in:

  • child development
  • immunizations
  • health screenings
  • growth
  • sleep
  • nutrition
  • mental health
  • injury prevention
  • puberty
  • serious illnesses

It’s also helpful to stick with the same primary care provider as your child grows up. They will come to know your child’s health history well and develop a relationship with your family.

Managing back-to-school worries

Families should expect some nervousness from kids about returning to school and sports, Dr. Nguyen says. “While going back to school is supposed to be exciting, it might also cause some anxiety, especially for those who are not old enough to get the COVID-19 vaccine.”

She makes sure to address these fears during back-to-school checkups and offers the following advice for parents: “It’s important to validate kids’ concerns and try to identify what their worries are. Overall, as providers and parents, we must stay positive and not project our own worries about the pandemic onto children.”

For some children, catching the virus may be the main concern. For others, going from a year and a half of social distancing to daily in-person interactions with teachers, coaches and classmates may feel overwhelming.

If your child is worried about getting sick, Dr. Nguyen recommends emphasizing that the benefits of in-person schooling outweigh the risks of kids getting seriously ill from the coronavirus.

You can also point out that their teachers are doing a good job of keeping everything clean and safe, she says. And if someone does get sick, they can stay home from school and see their primary care provider to make sure they’re getting better. If many kids at their school get sick, there’s a chance they might go back to distance learning, she adds, “but kids are strong and handled it last year, and they can handle it again.”

If social situations or changes in routine are giving your child anxiety, Dr. Nguyen suggests getting them used to the transition well ahead of time. You could set up play dates with their soon-to-be classmates, or sign them up for camp, sports and other group activities.

Older kids may be able to spend 10 minutes jotting down their worries in a journal, followed by 10 minutes writing down things they are excited about, Dr. Nguyen adds. And if it gets rocky during the school year, there are primary care physicians, pediatricians, child psychologists, teachers and school counselors that your family can reach out to for added support.

Finding care in your community

OHSU’s primary care and pediatric clinics offer warm, welcoming care from providers who are dedicated to your child’s wellbeing.

OHSU Health’s system includes OHSU Healthcare and Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, Adventist Health Portland, and Hillsboro Medical Center (formerly Tuality Healthcare).

Find a provider near you.


This article was written by Jillian Cohan Martin.