The COVID-19 vaccine is a stepping stone which could be an instrumental step in bringing the Coronavirus pandemic to an end. Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson have come a long way since 2020 in developing a vaccine that can effectively combat COVID-19 in the United States. Recently, Pfizer has been granted full FDA approval for their inoculation instead of Emergency Use Authorization, which has spurred millions more Americans to get vaccinated. Emergency Use Authorization is a special status that the US government can grant to an unproven medication. Typically, receiving full FDA approval takes years and many trials. Full FDA approval means that enough data has been collected about a vaccine or medication, and has been tested thoroughly to make sure it is safe and effective for most people.
The two most prominent vaccines here in the United States, Pfizer and Moderna, require two shots in order to be fully vaccinated. Once the first shot has been administered, Pfizer requires a 2nd shot after 14 days and Moderna requires a 2nd shot after 28 days to be considered fully vaccinated. Two weeks after the second shot, an individual is considered fully vaccinated with 99% efficacy, meaning that the vaccine will prevent and/or reduce symptoms of COVID-19 for 99% of vaccinated individuals.
Recent studies have shown that 6 months after the second dose, the efficacy of Pfizer’s vaccine drops to 84%, as the vaccine begins to wear off or is less effective against various strains. This has recently prompted Pfizer to recommend a booster shot. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), fully vaccinated individuals with Pfizer or Moderna should get a booster jab 8 months after the second shot has been administered. Pfizer says that vaccine boosters should be available beginning on September 20th, 2021, and should be fully FDA approved, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Moderna, however, has stated that a booster 6 months after the 2nd shot will significantly increase antibodies. Dr. Anthony Fauci has said that Moderna’s booster shot may not be ready at the same time as Pfizer’s booster shot.
At this time, Johnson & Johnson have not stated that a booster shot is necessary, however the FDA and CDC are still collecting data on this.
No matter which vaccine that you have, the CDC recommends that you socially distance and wear masks indoors in high risk areas. If you are looking to get the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States, please check out the CDC’s Vaccine.gov.
UPDATE: As of September 23rd, 2021, the FDA has only approved booster shots for individuals aged 65 and older and other high risk populations.
I was born in Mexico City and I was an international student in the United States for several years. I received my bachelor’s degree at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and it was a time of my life I will never forget. I know firsthand all of the amazing experiences that studying abroad has to offer; meeting new people, getting to know another culture, practicing a language… Every day is a new adventure and a learning experience. But I also know very well that it can have unexpected obstacles, including financial struggles and homesickness.
Sadly, a very common and growing problem amongst international students is hunger due to food insecurity. Understanding food insecurity can help you and the people you care about identify and combat those negative circumstances. Read on to learn more about what you can do to fight food insecurity and find resources if you or someone you know are facing food insecurity.
What is food security?
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (World Food Summit, 1996). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggested it is an “economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.”
Essentially, food insecurity exists when people do not have access to enough food but also when the food they DO have access to is not varied or healthy enough. This can look like skipping meals because there is not enough money to buy food, or it can be that the only restaurants and stores nearby are lacking fruits and vegetables, it can even be that the places that are affordable and close enough to households are fast food or gas stations. In some cities, people who do not have cars also struggle with food insecurity because food options are too far away for them to access.
How does it affect international/study abroad students?
According to many studies, about half of all college-level students experience food insecurity. This number is even larger among international students. Not having access to enough or the right food can affect students not just physically, in the form of hunger and exhaustion, but it can also affect them mentally. Being hungry can make students have a hard time with concentration, sleep, and even cause anxiety and depression. All of this is added to the normal stress of school, as well as a constant reminder of financial stress and it can contribute to feelings of shame and isolation. This is especially true right now that we are facing a global pandemic.
But please remember that you are not alone. There are many campus resources available to you to help with food, financial aid, and mental health.
What are some resources for those affected by food insecurity?
Fortunately, there are ways to help combat food insecurity and help students and other individuals have access to the food they need. Many universities have campus pantries, where they provide students with free groceries and other necessities on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Many cities also have community pantries or fridges that allow students and community members to share and take food when it is needed. Lastly, there are food banks and soup kitchens, where you can both donate food and be provided with it.
Below we have shared a list to help you find these resources near you*:
What can I do to help reduce the effects on my community?
If you are fortunate enough to not be affected by food insecurity, you are in a position to help others who are; whether you are an international student or not, you can directly be part of the solution. Here are some ways you can help the efforts to end hunger:
Volunteer at a food pantry, food bank, or soup kitchen.
Donate money or food to food pantries and food banks.
Reach out to restaurants and grocery stores about doing rescue programs for “Ugly food” or any surpluses they can donate.
If your school or community doesn’t have one, start a campus pantry or community fridge.
Encourage your school to invest in food affordability and access as well as counseling for students experiencing food insecurity and/or situations of homelessness.
Volunteer at a farm or urban/community garden in your area.
Contact your local and state representatives.
Organize a food drive.
Support and fight for initiatives such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Volunteer or start grocery delivery programs.
Spread awareness about this topic! The more people know about it, the easier it will be to identify and fight against it.
If you know of any more resources not listed here or you want to share the amazing things you have experienced as an international student, please share them below. We would love to read them!
A few weeks ago, I went to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription that I’ve filled for months before. My insurance had changed recently so I had to fill the prescription under the new insurance. After the pharmacist got off the phone with this new insurance company, he advised me that there was an issue with the insurance and I needed to call them. When I contacted them, they informed me that they couldn’t authorize the prescription my primary care physician prescribed until my doctor could prove that I had tried other medications. I was shocked, in my mind why would an insurance company determine what medication I should be taking? Isn’t that the job of the doctor?
Even as an insurance agent, this took me by surprise and I had to do a bit of research on my own to understand why this was happening.
In the US, non-medical switching is a practice that insurance companies use. The way it works is, the insurance company will ask you to try a similar medication, most often the generic version of your current medication or a cheaper alternative first before authorizing the one your doctor may prescribe. In most cases, this may not be a big deal since you’re ultimately taking the same medication. It would be like taking Acetaminophen instead of its slightly more expensive brand medication Excedrin. Both are pain medications to manage severe migraines but one is generic and one is a brand.
However, in other instances, because this insurance company was new to me, they did not have my full medical history. Therefore, they did not know I had already tried generic medications before my doctor and I found the one that actually worked. If this has ever happened to you, here are a few actions you can take to get the decision reversed:
Speak to your doctor ASAP!
Contact your doctor and explain what is going on with your prescription. My primary care physician had to fill out some paperwork explaining that I had already tried other medications and share my medical records so I could fill my prescription. Had I not done that, I would have had to accept the generic prescription and it may not have worked as well as the one I had already been taking for months. If you have not tried other medications and your doctor feels confident that the generic version of the original prescription will work, you can give that one a try.
Bottom line: Always contact your doctor since they know your medical history.
After you speak to your doctor
After your doctor submits the relevant paperwork, you must follow up with your insurance company to ensure they have everything they need to approve the correct medication. You may have to resubmit your prescription to your pharmacy once approval is given. It may seem like a lot of work but it’s important to advocate for yourself. You and your doctor have worked together to find the correct medication and know what works and what doesn’t work.
While you’re waiting
Sometimes, authorizations can take from 7 to 30 days depending on how fast your doctor can fill out and send paperwork, how fast the insurance company is able to process your claim, and how fast you can get the prescription resubmitted. Don’t panic! Many times, your doctor’s office can give you samples that they keep on stock until you’re able to fill a prescription.
Filling your prescriptions
So you’ve done your due diligence, followed up with all the parties involved, waited patiently and now you are ready to fill your prescription. However, the work is not done yet. Depending on your insurance plan, your prescription may be covered with higher deductibles or copays if they are a brand prescription vs a generic prescription medication. Here are a few ways to manage the unexpected cost of prescriptions:
Search for coupons: Many times, the manufacturer that made the medication offers coupons to help you offset the medication cost. This is especially true of newer prescription drugs. With a simple google search, you can save yourself hundreds of dollars.
RX discount cards: Whenever you’re at the pharmacy, you might have seen random cards on the counter. These are usually free prescription discount cards. They usually offer between 15-60% discounts on certain medications. Some examples of this are GoodRX, Singlecare, and WellRX.
Note: Discount prescription cards are not insurance plans, but instead are discount programs designed to help decrease your out of pocket expenses.
Ultimately, we always recommend advocating for yourself and following your doctor’s advice before agreeing to switching medications. Doctors are trained professionals and have extensive knowledge of how medications interact with others and they also know you and your medical history.
Feeling stressed out? How many times have you heard, just breathe! In fact, when you look at many different relaxation techniques, whether it’s yoga or meditation, you will notice that there is a lot of focus on the types of breaths we take. In this blog we will talk about what research is finding when it comes to our breath and its connection to our emotions. We will also explore different breathing techniques as well as popular apps that might be helpful to incorporate into your lifestyle.
It turns out that there are two pacemaker cells in our body: one that is located in the heart and regulates our heartbeat and one that is in our brain that regulates our breath. The pacemaker in our heart cannot be controlled, it’s what we call involuntary, and it beats to its own rhythm. But the cluster of cells that regulate our breath are actually located in our brain, which sends signals to our spinal cord, over to our skeletal muscles, which then expands our lungs. Since these clusters of cells are in our brain, breathing can be voluntary or involuntary. You may find yourself breathing without thinking about it, but you can also take a deep breath or hold your breath when you want to. More and more studies that are coming out show that the breaths we take have a distinct effect on our emotions.
Think about it. Why does hyperventilating make us anxious and why does breathing slowly make us calmer?
The Connection Between Breath & Emotions
Much of this is still being discovered, but findings go back to research done in 1991 when a study co-authored by Jack Feldman, a professor of neurology at UCLA, found a cluster of neurons in the brainstem that was thought to be the important mechanism for the respiratory rhythm in mammals, including humans.
By identifying these neurons, scientists then looked at how breath, emotions, and alertness all worked together – and indeed, found a link between these neurons and alertness. These studies showed that there was a link between breath and emotions, and explained why when we breathe rapidly we are anxious and when we breathe slowly we are calm.
Other studies continued to reinforce this idea, including a study done by Pierre Phillipot. Phillipot and his team found that different emotions are linked to specific respiratory patterns. In Phillipot’s study, he asked participants to generate an emotion such as sadness, fear, and happiness and they looked closely at the different respiration patterns. After looking at these patterns, they found that every emotion had a distinct breath pattern. There was even a follow up study that had a different group of participants come to the lab and they were instructed on how to breathe. These participants were then asked to report how they felt – and they reported the same emotional outcome that was observed in the original group!
All of this is to say, we can use our breath to control how we feel. It can serve as a powerful tool in our emotional wellness toolkit.
So how does one learn to do this? There are many different breathing techniques out there that you can try and practice. Finding a few that are easy to use throughout the day.
Here are a few that we like:
Alternate nostril breathing
Also known as nadi shodhana pranayama in Sanskrit, this breathing technique is great for relaxation.You should avoid this if you are feeling sick or congested.
Get comfortable and relax
Exhale and use your right thumb to gently close your right nostril
Inhale through your left nostril and then close your left nostril with your right pinky and ring fingers
Release your thumb and exhale out through your right nostril
Inhale through your right nostril and then close this nostril
Release your fingers to open your left nostril and exhale through this side
Repeat up to 5 minutes and finish as you exhale on the left side
Resonant or coherent breathing
Resonant or coherent breathing is when you breathe at a rate of 5 full breaths per minute (or inhaling and exhaling for 5 counts).
Get comfortable and relax
Inhale for a count of 5
Exhale for a count of 5
Continue for a few minutes
Pursed lip breathing
This breathing technique can be practiced at any time and puts our attention on our breath.
Get comfortable and relax
Inhale slowly through your nose for 2 counts (keeping your mouth closed)
Exhale slowly by blowing air through your pursed lips (or puckered lips) for a count of 4.
In addition to incorporating breathing techniques into your daily routine, you can also look at downloading some apps that might also help to incorporate some of these exercises. Here are a few of our favorites:
The Breathwrk app takes your goals into consideration and develops a collection of breathing exercises to work on. Whether you are looking to relax, feel energized, or alleviate stress, this app will walk you through each exercise and send you daily reminders. Many of the exercises are free, but there are some features that do require a subscription (there is a 7-day trial to see whether it will work for you!).
The breathe2 app is another breathing app which focuses on the benefits of breathing exercises, and can also be used to relieve stress, improve focus and concentration, meditation, etc. There are a number of breathing exercises that you will learn, and it will help you to define each breathing cycle including inhale, exhale, hold.
There are an abundance of really good apps that can help those people looking to incorporate breathing into their daily lives in a more guided way. If you have a favorite app, let us know in the comments below.
While breathing exercises and awareness can be an important tool to maintaining your emotional wellness, it is important to take a holistic approach. In addition to breathing exercise, you may want to consider your exercise, diet, sleep, and your overall outlook to continue to promote and maintain your wellness.
As summer approaches, COVID-19 vaccine eligibility has expanded to anyone in the United States 16 years of age and older. So now that eligibility has been granted, what does this mean for international students and what should you do now?
There has been a lot of discussion and ambiguity around how much vaccines cost and who is eligible, but the good news is that more time has allowed for further clarification, and it’s all positive! This is great news for international students currently residing in the United States and for the country as a whole, as anyone residing in the US, foreign nationals included, are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Even better, it’s completely free regardless of whether or not your insurance covers it!
Where to sign up
The CDC, Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, lists several ways for you to easily sign up to schedule your appointment! Visiting Vaccines.gov is a great place to start, as you can locate vaccination providers within your vicinity by typing in your zip code and selecting the type of vaccine you wish to receive. You also have the option to text the zip code in which you wish to receive your vaccine to 1-800-232-0233, or you can also speak to someone over the phone by calling the same number to assist in finding a vaccine administration site near you.
Scheduling your appointment
Just as easy as it is to sign up, scheduling your appointment takes little effort. Whether you are getting vaccinated at a pharmacy, doctor’s office or larger vaccine location, you can most likely schedule your appointment online or over the phone and choose a time that works best for you. Depending on what you opt in for, you will receive a confirmation of your appointment and reminders via email, phone or text.
What to expect when you arrive
When arriving for your appointment, you can expect to be kept at 6 foot distance between you and others, and you will be asked to wear a mask to cover your nose and mouth. You will receive information about the type of vaccine you are receiving and schedule your second vaccination appointment if you have opted for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. After you receive your vaccine, you will have your vaccination card filled out by your provider or staff member, that you will want to keep in a safe place to show that you have been vaccinated. If you are receiving a second vaccine, you will need to bring this card to your next appointment.
After your injection, you will then be monitored and required to wait 15 minutes before leaving to ensure that you do not have any major side effects or health issues. If you’re lucky, there might even be stickers or buttons being given away as you leave showing that you have been vaccinated! Hooray!
You’re vaccinated! Now what?
To be considered fully vaccinated, it must be two weeks from the time in which you had your second vaccine if you received the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna and two weeks from a one shot vaccine such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccine. Upon receiving your vaccine, you may notice some side effects while others may not have any. This is considered perfectly normal as your immune system is building up tolerance to the virus. Common side effects include soreness, reddening, or swelling of the arm from where the vaccine was injected and throughout your body you may feel tired and experience head and body aches, muscle pain, nausea or chills. You can expect this to subside within a few hours to a few days.
Being fully vaccinated is a liberating feeling! You can begin to do things you maybe haven’t done since before the pandemic, such as socializing with friends and family that have also been vaccinated without masks or distancing. However, it’s important to continue to take precautions and continue to follow public guidelines as we still have much to learn. You can learn more by visiting the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention with detailed information on how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It has been over one year since the Covid-19 virus became a worldwide pandemic and we were all required to isolate ourselves at home. Even though at some point the pandemic felt eternal, with the development of vaccines by different pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, AstraZeneca and BioNTech, life around the globe may start to return to normal within the next year.
At this moment, the Covid-19 vaccine is being administered for free by most governments. In the United States, for example, each state has developed a vaccination plan, starting with the populations that are a higher risk of complications if they were to get infected with the virus. If you’re inside the United States and you’d like to obtain more information about the vaccination plan in the state you’re currently residing in, please contact the Health Department of your state.
Can I visit other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing?
The answer is YES, you can!
Can I visit unvaccinated friends and family without wearing a mask indoors?
The answer is YES, you can. The CDC does, however, recommend you visit at a single household and only if the people living there are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease, meaning their age group isn’t a risky population and they don’t have any health conditions that may put them at higher risk of complications arising from a COVID-19 infection. Keep in mind that the more households you visit, the higher risk of infection to you and those close to you.
Can a fully vaccinated person refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure?
The answer is YES but only if the person does not develop symptoms of the disease after exposure.
Can fully vaccinated people travel within the United States and internationally?
YES! According to the CDC, people who are fully vaccinated can travel within the US and internationally, without the need of getting a Covid test or quarantining before or after traveling.
Note: Since each person’s body responds differently to the vaccine, it might take longer for some people than others to create immunity to the virus, and if we also take into consideration that a great number of the population hasn’t been vaccinated yet (such as young adults and children) we recommend that you keep taking the following precautions:
Wear a mask covering your nose and mouth when you are out in public.
Maintain 6 feet of physical distance if you are visiting unvaccinated people who are at an increased risk for severe Covid-19.
Avoid medium or large sized crowds.
If you start showing symptoms of Covid-19, get tested immediately.
Please visit the CDC’s website for more updates regarding the Covid-19 vaccine
The Covid-19 pandemic might finally be reaching its end with the development of these vaccines, however, until enough people have received their full dose of the vaccine, we strongly encourage you to keep taking precautions.
Please visit our Covid-19 page if you’d like to read more useful information about how to stay safe during the lockdown
It is that time of the year when we give our plans a thorough review and go through updates. 2020 left chaos in its path but it gave us a chance to examine the coverage offered through our plans and improve them so they meet the needs of our new reality. Our most popular plans have been updated as follows:
Healthcare in the United States is complicated to say the least. If you get sick or injured, there are many places that you can go to for medical treatment in the US. It’s important to know where to go to make sure you don’t end up running around to multiple places, spending more money than you need to, and ensuring you have a smooth claims process with your insurance company. So, which provider should you go to for medical care?
What is a provider? A provider is another way to refer to a health professional who can provide medical care such as a doctor, hospital, or clinic.
Primary care physicians are by far the most common providers in the United States, and are typically made up of general practitioners and family doctors. Primary care doctors can deal with a range of issues from minor colds and infections to chronic illnesses. If a condition is outside of their area of expertise, they will be able to refer you to a specialist. It is important to call in advance and make an appointment, and most are open Monday through Friday from 8 am – 5 pm.
When do I go to a primary care doctor? You may go to a primary care doctor for routine and preventative care, such as a yearly doctor’s check up, or vaccinations. They can also order blood work, help manage chronic illnesses, and refer you to specialists.
Walk-in clinics are a great option for minor injuries and illnesses, such as the flu or strep throat, and can also administer common vaccines. Walk-in clinics are often located inside of pharmacies such as Walgreens, Walmart, CVS, and in many supermarkets that have pharmacies on-site. They can do a thorough evaluation, administer tests, and prescribe medications for common illnesses – and you do not need an appointment to be seen (although it can be helpful to call before showing up!). Walk-in clinics should not be used if you have a more serious condition such as a broken bone.
When do I go to a walk-in clinic? You can go to a walk-in clinic for common illnesses such as the flu or for common vaccinations.
Urgent Care Centers
Urgent care centers are often stand-alone buildings or locations in retail spaces that offer many services that emergency rooms offer, but are excellent for many non-emergency situations. Urgent care centers do not require an appointment, and can assist you with illnesses and injuries such as mild allergic reactions, sprains, and minor fractures. Urgent care centers may also have access to x-ray machines, can conduct lab work, and may be able to do blood work depending on the facility.
Urgent care centers will save you time and money, as the average urgent care center is cheaper, and has a much shorter waiting time of roughly an hour (which is shorter than most emergency rooms!). Urgent care centers are often open from 7 am until 9 pm on weekdays, and from 8 am until 5 pm on the weekends, but be sure to check before you go.
When do I go to an urgent care center? You can go to urgent care centers for illnesses, lab work, sprains, and minor broken bones.
Emergency rooms are for exactly that – emergencies. Emergency typically means needing immediate treatment in order to save a life or limb. Emergency rooms can treat serious issues such as head trauma, chest pains, and severe bleeding among many more emergency situations.
The emergency room is typically the most expensive place to go and you may have to wait longer. Because of this, it is important to only go to the emergency room if it is a true emergency. You do not need an appointment to go to the emergency room, and they are often open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In 2017, the average cost of an emergency room visit was an astounding $1,389. Even if you have insurance, there are often separate higher copays or additional deductibles when you go to the emergency room.
When do I go to an emergency room? You can go to an emergency room if there is a life threatening injury or illness such as chest pains, a stroke, or a severely broken bone.
No matter where you go, it is important to find out which providers work with your health insurance plan. Some insurance plans will let you choose where to go, while others may have a specific list of options. Learn more about provider networks and if you are insured with us, check out your Student Zone to find a provider near you.
For most students, Spring 2021 is the first semester where you have finally gotten into the groove of taking classes completely online. The past year has been a challenge, but we are ready to face it head on this time around. Through trial and error or cautionary tales, we have all learned how we work best while being stuck at home. That being said, it never hurts to be reminded of some tips and tricks from those who are experiencing it too!
Here are four tips for taking online classes that might help you experience a better year.
1. Take advantage of the time you save not having to commute.
For many of us, getting to class on time meant leaving your house early. I used to leave an hour before class started so that I could drive to campus in time to park, walk to the classroom, and prepare my notes. Not having that commute time means I get an extra hour every morning to spend however I would like! This is a great time to focus on yourself and check in with your mental health. Try meditating or reading a few chapters of a book you like. Being inside from morning to night can take a toll on your emotional wellness. Taking a walk in your neighborhood or getting in a nice stretch in the fresh air can change your perspective on the day ahead.
2. Get into a routine.
Life pre-pandemic was filled with strict routines for me. I got up at the same time each day, packed my lunch, had my morning coffee, and so on. The first month working and taking classes from home was a challenge as I was so out of sync with my normal day to day schedule. One of the greatest changes I made this past year was to create at home routines that mimicked my life before. I could still wake up early and prepare my lunch ahead of time. I could still enjoy my morning cup of coffee like I did before, even if I spent the whole day sitting by my coffee maker. Sticking with a routine can help you feel productive, stay on task, and break up the monotony of staying at home.
3. Have set times for work, school, and rest.
Just like how a routine can keep you accountable, having set times for different aspects of your life is key. When you are living your life in one setting all the time, it can be easy for things to overlap. For example, when you attend class in the living room it is simple to go ahead and open up your computer 15 minutes early. “Why not? I am ready anyway” you might say, but don’t get caught up in actions like these! Creating boundaries in your life is more important than ever so that you don’t become overwhelmed and burnt out. Set aside certain times for work, school, and rest so that they don’t extend over into one another. Just like how you wouldn’t catch up on sleep during class, you shouldn’t catch up on work during relaxation times.
4. Go easy on yourself and allow for breaks.
At the start of my quarantine, I tried to use up all my free time learning new things. I taught myself how to sew, tried to pick up a new language, and baked every type of bread imaginable. As time went on, though, I found myself losing steam. While you may find yourself with more time in your days, you don’t necessarily have to fill it up with productivity. Taking breaks and allowing yourself to breathe is vital. I often forget that despite all the time that has passed, we are still living through a historical event and a global pandemic. For your health and your sanity, allow yourself to rest and recuperate. You can read our page on Emotional Wellness During the COVID-19 Outbreak for some more insight.
While you spend your days at home, you can also check out our ISI Live Events! We come to you live with ISI’s own, Sally McLeod, to talk about topics international students face everyday. You can watch previous lives on our YouTube channel and sign up for reminders about future events.
When I was younger my parents were still learning English, which meant I was the family translator for all family doctor’s appointments; at that time, we weren’t aware doctors could provide an interpreter. This, coupled with all the taboos my parents brought with them from Colombia, made going to the doctor difficult at times. At 11-years-old, I was expected to know how to translate words like “Amoxicillin” and the side effects of hypertension or high cholesterol. This experience helped me learn that I can ask questions at the doctor’s office to make sure I understood what they meant before telling my parents.
Nowadays, while it’s difficult, and sometimes embarrassing, to ask certain questions to my own doctor, it’s important to know that your doctor has: (1) probably heard the same question before and (2) they are there to help you and they need to know if you’re experiencing any unusual symptoms.
Let’s explore some of the questions that you should never be embarrassed to ask your doctor:
Questions about personal hygiene
Personal hygiene is important no matter where you go in the world. However, sometimes our body undergoes changes that might make your personal hygiene routine more difficult. If you notice things like sweating more than usual or bad breath even after brushing your teeth, it is time to consult with your doctor. Certain medications can cause the chemistry of your body to change. There could also be a build up of bacteria in your body or you could have even an infection causing personal hygiene issues.
Questions about your mental health
Anything you tell your doctor is private and protected by HIPAA in the US
The importance of our mental health has taken the spotlight this past year, especially with all the time spent indoors and socially distancing from others. However, pandemic or not, if you are feeling anxious or think you may have symptoms of depression, like change in appetite, trouble concentrating, fatigue, or mood swings, it’s important to make an appointment with your doctor to discuss how you’re feeling. Anything you tell your doctor is private and protected by HIPAA in the US, so you don’t have to worry about them disclosing this information to anyone else. Your doctor will be able to come up with a treatment plan if necessary and can refer you to a mental health counselor or prescribe you medication to help with your symptoms.
Questions about alternative treatments or a second opinion
Many people feel uncomfortable challenging the opinion of a medical expert. However, you know your body the best. Sometimes, there are multiple routes you can take when it comes to treating a condition, so it’s okay to want a second opinion before making a decision. You can also research alternative treatments that you feel might be best for you and discuss these options with your doctor before finalizing your treatment plan.
If you think about the times that you have made a big decision in life, such as where to go study abroad or what subject to major in, you probably did not go with just the opinion of one person but rather consulted many sources and compared different countries and schools before deciding where to go and what to study. Accepting a diagnosis or treatment is no different!
Questions to help you understand your diagnosis or treatment
Similar to asking for alternative treatments or getting a second opinion, it’s important that you understand what each entails. For example, in the United States, English is spoken by the majority. If English is not your first language, medical terms can sound like a foreign language of its own. If you don’t understand what the doctor is trying to explain to you, ask him or her to clarify. They are there to help you and it is their job to effectively communicate with you and make sure you are comfortable with the options presented. If you feel more comfortable reading in English, make sure to ask your doctor to write down your treatment plan in detail so you can refer back to it once you leave your appointment, or, you can ask for an interpreter ahead of your appointment if necessary.
Did you know: The United States does not have an official language. While English is vastly spoken, by federal and state law, medical providers must offer language access. Your insurance company can help you set up translation services too!
Questions about being able to afford care
We said it before and we will say it again: The US healthcare system is one of the most expensive in the world. Unfortunately, medical debt is more common than you may think. However, this should not deter you from obtaining the care you need. We recommend having an insurance plan to protect you from medical debt and to offer coverage when the unexpected happens!. You may also confirm with your insurance company if a certain treatment or visit to the doctor is covered under your benefits before seeking treatment.
Here are some questions you can ask your healthcare provider ahead of time of your appointment:
Not all hospitals or clinics will work with all health insurance plans. You can ask the provider to confirm if they work with a certain network or insurance company. The provider can also contact the insurance company directly and confirm your benefits on your behalf.
Many hospitals or clinics have financial assistant programs to help people obtain the help they need without spending thousands of dollars all at once. Remember, your insurance may cover some of the costs too as an out-of-network provider but you may have more out-of-pocket expenses, as it will usually be less coverage than if you chose an in-network doctor.
The doctor can give you a quote on how much a treatment could cost. If you have to take medication, you may even qualify for discount programs at local pharmacies that could reduce the overall pricing of said medication.
Some clinics and hospitals may reduce the costs of treatment if you are able to prove that you do not have sufficient income to pay for it. Places like Planned Parenthood provide their patients with birth control, pap smears, cervical cancer screenings, and more for free or at a reduced cost. Some pharmacies have walk-in clinics that can diagnose or treat small injuries or illnesses like the flu or a sprain for a reduced cost, and some may offer certain medications or immunizations at low-costs or even free of charge
Your experience as an international student or scholar should be one of the most exciting times in your life. This experience will introduce you to many different cultures and customs. It will also teach you that asking questions is important, especially when it comes to your healthcare needs. Remember, doctors want to help you feel better, so you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions or be embarrassed to discuss how you’re feeling. As Carl Sagan said, “every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question”.