Every student should have an annual physical examination before going back to school to begin the new term. In many states, this medical examination is mandated by law and most schools require that a medical form be filled out before the child is permitted to attend classes. This checkup is necessary for the child's health and well-being and for the health of everyone else in the school environment. A typical physical examination includes the taking of a medical history, an observation and evaluation of posture, stature, mobility, joints and organs, as well as tests for vision and hearing. In many elementary schools, a school physician is available to perform medical examinations, but most students are examined by their private physicians.
In most cases, a dental examination will also be necessary and will be performed by a dentist at another time.
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Reasons for a School Physical
There are many good reasons for a student to have a medical examination prior to attending school. All involve protecting individual children and their classmates. The doctor determines whether the student:
- Has a contagious condition
- Has a weight problem
- Is growing at a normal rate
- Needs glasses, a hearing aid, or other devices
- Requires further diagnostic testing
- Is up to date on immunizations
- Needs special classroom accommodations
- Requires medications during the school day
By performing a school physical, the doctor is able to evaluate the general health of the child or adolescent and to determine whether any further medical consultation is necessary.
Taking a medical history is part of any thorough physical examination. These questions are designed to protect the student from possible dangers during an average school day or during participation in sports or other exercise. The physician will make a note of any:
- Congenital defects
- Chronic disease conditions
- Chest pain or shortness of breath
- History of seizures
- Previous surgical procedures
- Prescription medications
- Previous injuries
- Family history of medical problems
When the student is an adolescent, this portion of the school physical may also provide an opportunity to discuss matters of possible concern, such as smoking, drinking, drug use, sexual activity or depression.
The School Physical Procedure
During the course of the school physical, the doctor:
- Records height and weight
- Checks pulse and blood pressure
- Evaluates posture, mobility, muscle strength
- Checks heart, lung and bowel function
- Examines ears, nose and throat
- Administers vision and hearing tests
Depending on the state, the particular school, and the age of the student, other screenings, such as for lead or tuberculosis, may be performed. If immunizations are necessary, they will be administered as well.
- National Institutes of Health
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
- U.S. National Library of Medicine
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