College students, tasked with weighing the costs of clinic visits and class absences in the midst of flu season, are the highest demographic of uninsured Americans with roughly 1.7 million students, according to Inside Higher Ed.
For uninsured students like journalism junior Brenda Martinez, a sick day is not always an affordable option if a class attendance policy requires a doctor’s note for an excused absence.
“It’s not fair,” Martinez said. “Most of us aren’t working full-time jobs to go and pay for a silly sickness that could be treated at home.”
Martinez said her Journalism and Religion class counts attendance as 10% of the overall grade. According to the syllabus, students must contact the professor in the event of an illness to avoid a penalty. However, Martinez said her professor requires a doctor’s note to get the absence excused.
“If the class is going to take away that 10% from having that perfect A, then I would rather just go in sick than sacrifice not obtaining the grade that I would like to have by the end of the year,” Martinez said
Dr. Melinda McMichael, University Health Services (UHS) interim executive director, said UHS does not control attendance policies set by faculty. She said the best course of action for minor illnesses is to stay home and practice self-care, a policy in line with the American College Health Association.
“The trend in college health has been very much to move away from giving class excuses and to encourage schools not to require an excuse every time a student misses a class,” McMichael said.
For students who cannot afford a clinic visit or go to UHS to obtain an excuse note, UHS offers prewritten letters to give to their professors which explain UHS’s policy on written excuses. It also encourages professors to communicate with students so as not to jeopardize their health or the health of others.
Student Emergency Services offers coaching tips online and in-person to help students when they need to communicate an illness to a professor.
“Sometimes students have gotten into tough spots,” said Ashley Jones, assistant director of Student Emergency Services. “That’s where we’ve been able to just talk to students about what it looks like to go in and talk with a professor during office hours about your concerns or the best way to approach what has happened.”