Students in Engelska parken (English Park). Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt.2021-05-10
Student Health Services’ new health educator part of long-term investment
According to the Swedish Higher Education Ordinance, higher education institutions are responsible for providing students with access to preventive health care to promote physical and mental health. While Student Health Services has long worked with outreach and preventive health care, from this year there will be a longer-term investment in health educators.
The activities of Student Health Services rest on the twin pillars of outreach and treatment. Ideally, students should be able to reach the service, and the service reach out to students, before they suffer from ill health.
“In the best of all possible worlds, we would not need the treatment side of our work, with counsellors and psychologists. However, reality looks somewhat different,” says Sofia Cureau, operations manager and medical director of Uppsala University’s Student Health Services.
In addition to counsellors and psychologists, up until 2020 Student Health Services also employed a part-time medical doctor; however, from 2021, a longer-term investment is being made in health educators, in order to better reach out to students with preventive measures.
“This is very much a long-term direction for the organisation, from treatment to prevention,” says Eva Söderman, head of Student Health Services.
Health educators offer welcome reinforcement
Student Health Services has a long history of working preventively and all of the unit’s staff regularly prepare and hold courses and workshops, not least for international students. That said, until health educator Karolin Eriksson joined the unit at the beginning of the year no one focused solely on coordinating outreach activities. She is currently leading the work of preparing a roadmap for future operations.
“We are currently compiling the results of a survey sent to students earlier in the spring. The purpose of the survey was to find out how students themselves would prefer to be reached and how they feel Student Health Services should inform them of what we can offer,” says Karolin Eriksson.
In her role as health educator, Karolin will not only be working on outreach and preventive measures aimed at students but also on the issue of the general visibility of Student Health Services.
“It’s a matter of reaching out on all possible channels. Where do students find information about Student Health Services? What contact paths are available? What information is available on the Student Health Services website? How is it structured, who is it addressing and in what tone?”
Reaching students can be a problem
According to a recent Novus survey commissioned by the Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations (Saco), less than 25% of students are aware that a separate student health service exists, while 70% do not know when they should contact Student Health Services and primary health care respectively.
According to Sofia Cureau, students can be a difficult group to reach. There are a great many demands on students’ attention, making it especially important to invest in visibility.
“Even before the pandemic this was a problem and we have read a great deal in the media over recent years about students feeling unwell. Despite many years of offering courses, lectures and treatment, we do not feel that students get in touch with us as much as might be expected.”
The first stage of a long-term strategy
The appointment of a health educator is only the first stage of a long-term strategy of moving towards more preventive health care. Funds have been made available to recruit a second health educator after the summer, as well as an additional counsellor later in the year who will focus specifically on preventive online treatment, as Eva Söderman explains.
“We have been waiting for a long time to be able to begin working strategically to reach all parts of the University. Health educators are precisely the link in our outreach we need to start fully implementing our preventive measures.”
The hope is that by the autumn it will be possible to meet students on campus once again as normal. Meanwhile, Student Health Services is planning a Mental Health Week in October, in conjunction with the already established World Mental Health Day, which this year will be held on 10 October, in order to highlight mental illness through various events, lectures and more.
“Naturally, our hope is that by then we can begin meeting students again in person at physical events. We understand that there is a need for initiatives of this kind, as the student unions and associations have previously raised the issue, and we hope to be able to include other stakeholders who work with students,” says Karolin Eriksson.
Information on Student Health Services in the Staff Portal [in Swedish]
Student Health Services website
Student Health Services is also planning a collaboration with Campus 1477, the University’s procured service for student exercise, and the hope is that it will be possible to begin long-term cooperation as soon as the infection rate and restrictions allow.
In parallel with Student Health Services’ long-term work, a pilot study on students’ mental health is also underway under the leadership of a teacher and a student, with the intention of identifying what the University’s organisation as a whole can contribute to student wellbeing.