12 Frequently Asked Questions About School Physicals

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Summer has hardly begun for the kids, but for parents, planning for the upcoming school year is well underway. That means it’s time to schedule your child’s back-to-school physical, making sure they’re up to date on their vaccinations and feeling their best. In fact, some studies show children are most successful in the classroom and extracurricular activities when they feel healthy.

Whether it’s your first time scheduling an annual physical for your child or you just want a refresher from last year’s check-up, Allison Roe, DO, UnityPoint Health, responds to 12 frequently asked questions parents have about their child’s back-to-school physical.

1. How Often Does My Child Need to Go to the Doctor?

All kids should have a yearly physical to ensure they’re continuing to grow and develop appropriately. This also gives you an opportunity to talk about any concerns or questions that have come up in the last year.

2. Is There a Difference Between an Annual Physical and Sports Physical?

Yes, there is a difference between sports and annual physicals. The sports physical focuses on whether a child is safe to participate in a particular sport or physical activity. A sports physical is important, because it can assist in determining if a child has health problems that may interfere with their participation.

In an annual physical, a doctor checks out your child’s overall health, often looking at their social, behavioral and physical well-being. There’s no need to make a separate appointment if your child needs both. Their doctor can provide both types of exams during one appointment.

3. Do Schools Require Physical Examinations for Students?

Depending on where the child attends school, it may or may not be necessary for them to have a physical examination. To participate in sports in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin, a student must have a physical. Certain vaccinations are also required for children upon entering different grade levels as well.

4. What Should I Expect During My Child’s Physical?

Several things happen during a child’s back-to-school appointment. The team will check the child’s height, weight and blood pressure. Once the physical exam begins, they’ll check the heart, lungs, spine for any curvature, and , signs of puberty. If it’s time for an immunization update, the immunization is provided during the appointment.

5. Are These Examinations Important?

Absolutely. It’s a good way to make sure your child is healthy, and their development is on track. A lot can change for a child during a year.

6. What Type of Healthcare Providers Can Perform the Exam?

Several different healthcare providers can perform a physical examination for children. A physician, physician’s assistant or an advanced registered nurse practitioner (ARNP) are all able to perform a physical.

7. Do I Need to Prepare My Child for Their Physical?

Depending on the age of your child, you may need to have a conversation with them about what they can expect during the exam. If your child is getting a shot or immunization during their physical and is fearful, Dr. Roe suggests having a conversation about why we go to the doctor, and how the goal is to keep us healthy.

“Often, avoiding the topic of shots ends up leading to a bigger meltdown in the office. Kids know shots happen at the doctor’s office, so they’re going to ask if they’re getting one when they come see us. It’s best to be open and honest with your child and explain how immunizations keep us safe from certain sicknesses,” she says.

8. Will My Child Get Immunizations/Vaccines During Their Physical?

If your child is due for immunizations and vaccines, they can get them during the back-to-school physical. All schools require vaccinations.

9. Should I Make a List of My Concerns?

Yes. If you have any concerns about your child’s emotional, mental or physical well-being, write down a list of questions to ask their primary care physician. Additionally, ask your child if they have any questions they want to ask the doctor and write those down, too. If your child is old enough, have them ask their questions. This is a good way to help your child prepare for doctor appointments after they’ve graduated, and you aren’t in attendance.

10. Is There Anything I Need to Prepare For?

If your family medical history has changed, you have a new insurance provider or your child is taking medication, have this information ready to provide to their doctor.

11. Can I Wait Until the End of Summer Since Sports Begin in the Fall?

Delaying the appointment might result in struggling to find a time that’s convenient for you. By scheduling the physical in the spring or early summer, you can avoid the back-to-school rush. Some summer camps require physicals, so your child may need to get theirs in the spring.

“Once a child’s sports physical is completed, it’s good for a full year. So, if parents want to schedule around the child’s birthday and avoid the rush of summertime, that physical form will be good until their birthday the following year,” Dr. Roe says.

12. How Can I Schedule a Visit?

Call to speak with one of our experience specialists at a UnityPoint Clinic location near you. They can help you find a time that works with your schedule. You can also conveniently schedule your appointment in our app for patients, MyUnityPoint.