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Health Care in the US

May 30, 2017

My name is Shelby Bi, and I am a Sophomore majoring in Child Studies. I am from China and have been in the US for almost 7 years. Coming to a new country can bring about a lot of new changes and a lot of questions. Along with, what seems, a hundred other tasks to complete upon coming to school you should be educated on the healthcare system and options available to you. I know being sick and going to a hospital can be very scary sometimes and something no one plans for, so here are some tips and instructions to showcase how SCU cares. I hope it can be helpful! And remember, there are always people you can talk to if you ask for help. And I will be available to answer any questions you have.  Just shoot me an email or message me on FB or wechat. My email address is and my wechat account is shelby-B10!


Health Insurance

International students are required to purchase school insurance unless you are already enrolled in an insurance that is equivalent to the school insurance. Read more here. Insurance is needed for doctor’s appointment, Emergency Room visits and other medical related business. Health insurance information can be found in Cowell Center.

Cowell Center

Cowell center is an on-campus school health center. It is by appointment only, but you can schedule an appointment easily by walking in or via phone. Cowell Center has programs to satisfy both physical and psychological needs of students. For example, you can get your cold/flu or get TB Skin/blood test at Cowell Center. You can also get counseling with school therapist or psychologist. Cowell center is also here to help you with connecting with local primary doctors/pharmacies.


Primary Doctors

Most local students have their primary doctors or family doctors, but it is, understandably, uncommon for international students to have a local primary doctor. It sometimes may be challenging for international students to get a primary doctor. Below are some steps to walk you through the process for getting a primary doctor.

  1. Ask your insurance carrier for a list of local physicians centers who accept your insurance. Different health centers accept different insurance companies. It is easiest to call your insurance carrier (their number can be found on your insurance card or on their website. Make sure to refer yourself by your Insurance ID/account number and school.) and ask them for a list of local physicians who carry your insurance company.

  2. Call the physician center

After you get the list of local physician centers, choose the one you would like to go and call them to schedule an appointment either for medical reasons or just to talk to a doctor. I strongly recommend Stanford Family Medicine associates if your insurance company works with them. They have great doctors and services. However, they are kind of pricey and there are cheaper local physicians that have good services and doctors as well. The receptionist of the physician center will generally ask you for some personal information since you are a new patient. Make sure to have your insurance card with you and your Official ID card (Government ID card: passport, Driver license, state ID card.) Usually when you address your area of concern, they will match you with a doctor who is a specialist in that area.


3. Arrive 5-10 minutes before your appointment time.


Since it is your first time, there may be some forms for you to fill out. Generally, if you are late for more than 15 minutes, your appointment will be canceled. You can always reschedule if needed but you would have to work with the doctor’s availability. Sometimes, you can get seen in the desired week, but sometimes you would have to wait till the next week or sometimes couple weeks later. So, schedule your appointment in advance if needed and DON’T miss your appointment.


4. Follow-up appointment


Generally when you check out, the receptionist will ask you if you would like to schedule a follow-up. This depends on whether your doctor has suggested a follow up appointment or not. If your doctor suggests a follow up appointment in a certain time period, then tell the receptionist that you need to schedule a follow up at a specific time.


5. Medication prescriptions.


Your doctor will most likely send the prescription to a local pharmacy of your choice or just give you a printed prescription form for you to take to the pharmacy. If you are not familiar with this area, you can ask him/her to give you a list and pick one from that. For example, Walgreens pharmacy, Safeway, Drugstore and etc. Take your insurance card and your ID with you (and a prescription if you have one) to that pharmacy.

Drop off your prescription(s) at the Drop off window of the pharmacy (usually inside and in the back of the stores (Safeway, Drugstore, Walgreens). Wait till your name is called or for a phone call telling you your medications are ready to be picked up. Then pick up your medications at the pick up window. Most of the time, the physicians there will go over the instructions with you and you can always ask them to clarify any questions you have.  

Emergency Room Visit

In case of emergency that you need to be seen by a doctor right away, you should either call campus safety (or the EMS), 911 (if it is life-threatening), or, if possible and doable, have a friend take you to the nearest hospital and go to the emergency room. Nearby local hospitals are, O’Connor Hospital, Good Samaritans, and Regional Medical Center. There are also other hospitals that you have find by using a google map. The nearest one I would suggest is O’Connor Hospital.


Below are a walkthrough of emergency check-ins and things you need to know:

  1. Make sure to take your official ID and Insurance card with you.

  2. Check-in forms are usually available and can be found right after you walk in. Fill it out before you go to the receptionist.

  3. Check in at the receptionist and he/she will have you fill out some paper works. And give you a wristband.

  4. Have a seat and wait till your name is called to get checked out by a triage nurse who is here to access the severity of your condition. He/she will do a brief exam on you, such as vital signs, blood pressure and temperature etc. The critical patients are always seen first and less serious patient are always seen after the critical patients. MAKE SURE YOU TELL THE TRIAGE NURSE ALL THE SYMPTONS, INCLUDING IF YOU ARE IN PAIN. This will determine how quickly you will be treated.

  5. If your conditions are not as critical as some other patients, you are most likely to be asked to wait in the waiting area. The waiting time can various in different circumstances. So just be patient and wait till your name is called.

  6. After your name is called, the nurse will take you (and your companions) to a available room. You will wait there for a doctor to come.


  • Dress in comfy clothes if you can. It is more comfortable for you if you are not feeling good. It is also easier for you to change into a gown if being asked by a nurse/doctor.

  • The emergency room can get pretty cold sometimes. They usually have warm blankets for you upon request. Having a blanket with you can help sometimes.

  • Pack up things you will need in a bag and carry it (or have a friend take it) to the hospital. Especially some medications you are taking. But alway ask a doctor/nurse first before you take them.

  • If you are admitted in the hospital to stay for couple days (depends on the severity or treatments of your medical condition), email your professors/counselors about your conditions and have your doctor write you a note.

Pay Hospital Bills

Usually if you are not being admitted, you are only going to pay for an emergency service fee. So have your credit card with you or you can ask them to bill you the payment and pay it later. Have them mail the payments to your school mailbox. Follow the instructions of payment in the mail and make sure you PAY THEM ON TIME!!! Otherwise your bills is going directly to an outside agency to collect your payment and that can damage your credit scores or just be troublesome.


Emergency Medical Services:

Within the campus community there is a student run group, the Emergency Medical Services Team, that respond immediately to student emergencies on campus and can call the ambulance if needed once they have assessed the situation. They are operated by 35 Nationally Certified and State Licensed EMT-Basics. They work from 5pm to 8am, when the Cowell Center is closed. You will often see them around campus in uniform and should have their phone number in your contacts in case of an emergency ((408) 554-4444).


Disability Resources center

If needed, you can always register at Disability Resources center depends on the severity of your medical conditions. This will help dealing with any academic issues that is related to your medical conditions. You can also get help at Drahmann Center as well for academic disabilities.


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