The Path to Back-to-School Physicals

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Father helping two young girls with their backpacks

Your child’s annual physical (also called back-to-school physical, well-child visit, yearly check-up, etc.) is an important part of your child’s path to overall health. Children change a lot in one year, and it’s important for your pediatrician to track their growth and development with an in-person visit. Andrew Cyr, MD, UnityPoint Health pediatrician, answers common questions about the annual physical process.

What to Expect at Your Child’s Physical

Dr. Cyr says while annual physicals are called many different names, they all serve the same purpose. An annual physical allows providers to comprehensively evaluate your child’s health to make sure he/she is ready for the next year of life.

“Most appointments take around 30 minutes, start to finish, seeing both nurses and your child’s provider,” Dr. Cyr says. “The age of your child dictates what needs to be done at that visit. For example, a 3-year check-up typically doesn’t require immunizations or blood draws, but a 2-year check-up might have a finger poke to check Hemoglobin and lead.”

Dr. Cyr also says there’s no “correct” time to have your child in for his/her physical, but most schools need an updated physical form within the past year prior to the start of a new school year. He recommends getting into a yearly rhythm that works best for your family.

What You Need to Bring to Your Child’s Physical

“If you are being seen for the first time in a clinic, it’s nice to have previous records and vaccine history available, so your health care team can review them and make sure everything is up-to-date. If you have been with your clinic for a long time, they should have everything on file and be able to print updated records for you. If you have a specific form that needs to be filled out for a specific sport or camp, it is helpful to bring that with you to the appointment to avoid lag time with fax/mailing options after the fact,” Dr. Cyr says.

Also, before you go, check ahead with the healthcare facility you're attending to understand masking requirements for any patients or caregivers. 

If Your Child Wants to See a Male/Female Doctor

Dr. Cyr says it’s more than reasonable to request a same-sex provider for your child, if your child is more comfortable with that.

“Most clinics have both female and male providers available. We all understand, and nobody will be offended! Simply ask, and we can help get you plugged in with a provider who would be a better fit,” Dr. Cyr says.

He also encourages parents of older children to give their child time alone with his/her provider.

“By the teenage years, it is helpful to provide at least some time for your child to interact with his/her provider on their own. This gives time to talk about sensitive subjects that may be easier to talk about without parents around. Adolescents certainly have a right to some privacy, and we try and be respectful of that as they grow older. We always provide time at the end of the visit to speak with parents as well to make sure everyone leaves on the same page,” Dr. Cyr says.

Annual Physicals vs. Sports Physicals

Sports physicals don’t take the place of annual physicals because sports physicals are specific only to the sport and mostly focus on injury prevention. The sports physical doesn’t address other health factors in a child’s life. But, a child who has an annual physical won’t need any additional sports physical during a year, unless there’s a change in a child’s medical history that could impact the child’s sport participation.

Physical Exams Near Me

Act now to schedule your child’s physical with his/her UnityPoint Health pediatrician or primary care provider. Their schedules fill up fast, especially at the end of summer.

Back to school physical infographic

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