Student Health and Wellness
A Conversation with John Ruffo and Emil Rodolfa Reflecting trends toward making student health and wellness integral to the college experience, the Student Health and Wellness Center at UC Davis occupies a prominent location on one of the campus’s major circulation paths, next to the new recreation center. It includes spaces for primary care, women’s health, counseling, health promotion and education, and specialty clinics. We asked Emil Rodolfa, the director of the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), and John Ruffo, the “R” in WRNS, to talk about some of the issues that drove the design—and the results.
Q: In regards to student health and wellness, what has changed on campus in the last few decades?
Emil: On average, students are older than they used to be. So they come with more experience and higher expectations—both for themselves and for the services the campus provides. And with the economic crisis, students today are feeling more anxiety as they approach senior year and graduation, especially if they don’t have jobs pinned down. We’ve seen increasing numbers of seniors come to talk to us about what the next step is.
Q: You hoped the design of the facility would help students feel more comfortable seeking counseling services. Could you talk about that?
Emil: We needed the design to allay concerns about privacy and confidentiality. And we wanted students to be able to come into the CAPS portion of the building feeling that other students wouldn’t know why they’re there. So we asked that the CAPS clinic be placed at the far end of the second floor. There’s not a lot of traffic down at that end, and at the same time, people come into that area for a lot of different reasons.
John: We started with the idea of having as diverse a program as we could possibly include within the building, from clinics to counseling services to a pharmacy to health promotion. That blurs the reason for the visit. The physical design followed that programmatic initiative. We were very quiet about the graphics and the signage, so it wouldn’t be obvious that a student was accessing a particular service.
Emil: Yes, the signage is really clear, but it’s understated.
Q: Emil, besides the design, how else are you reaching out to students?
Emil: The building is across the street from the student recreation center, where a number of programs attract up to 4,500 visitors per day. We have a series of workshops called Wednesday Wellness Programs, addressing topics ranging from exercise and mind/body relationships to eating right and getting more sleep. We’ve also developed a new program this year that places six staff members out in the community. Some students still feel there’s a stigma to going to counseling. So we have placed staff in places that these students frequent, like the Cross-Cultural Center, the Women’s Resources and Research Center, and the LGBT Resource Center.
Q: Emil, how do you coordinate your outreach activities with the rest of the health services?
Emil: We’re working on integrating our outreach services more with other programs. For example, Student Health Services has a health education program, and we have a consultation outreach and peer education program with them. It’s sometimes easier for students to go to Student Health Services to talk to a physician about mental health issues than to seek a psychologist. This year, we’re focusing on how to be more collaborative with the medical services and how to provide backup to physicians.
Q: Now that you’ve been running for a little over a year, what has surprised you about the new building?
Emil: The transition was remarkably smooth. The facility closed, and over the weekend, they moved everything in and things just picked up as if we’d always been there. Another surprise is the functionality of the building. The staff move from area to area easily. There’s been a real increase in the amount of contact between our counseling staff and the medical providers—they come down the hall to talk with us about students that they are treating, and CAPS staff will go to the student health part of the building to mingle. The building is very conducive to all this.
Q: Are you seeing more students?
Emil: Yes. We’re probably going to have a 10 percent increase in the number of students we treat this year. And I would attribute that to the closer connection to the student health providers.
Q: What advice would you give to campuses embarking on a new health and wellness center?
Emil: The upfront planning was really important. John and his group came in and talked to all the providers and the administration. They learned about the functionality of the workstations and the flow of traffic. They made us think about what we need, and they were able to put that into practice. My advice is, whoever is going to be located in the building should have a representative on the committee, even if you’ve got a small section of the building.
Q: John, what advice would you give?
John: I agree with Emil—architects have to start with a thorough planning process in which you understand not just the client, but also other high-quality facilities of the same type. The visits to other facilities and benchmarking that we did were very beneficial, helping us understand other models out there physically. So my advice is to go through an exploration. Don’t be constrained by your existing situation. You should be thinking about your vision for the future. And once you define that strategic vision, then you can develop a facility that supports that.
Emil: I agree. Dream big.