Living with Diabetes in College
You have just graduated from high school, returned home from beach week, and have started a summer job. You are excited, but anxious to attend college in the fall. Congratulations, you are now entering the next phase of your life! Now the worrying begins for both you and your family as you learn to cope as an individual. Not only will you live on your own (many of you for the first time), but you will need to make both academic and social decisions without the benefit of the "parental units." To make that seamless transition from living at home to dorm life, it pays to be prepared and know what to expect; especially if you are a college freshman who happens to have diabetes. Keep in mind that you will probably meet other students with either diabetes or other illnesses that require advance preparation.
Your college or university will send you the appropriate medical forms. You should fill out these forms carefully. It is important that the healthcare team at the university (typically called Student Health) have an updated record of your immunizations, health history, and diabetes regime. This information will help you obtain the necessary "goodies" to help you get settled in your dorm and classroom setting. It is a good idea to have a refrigerator in your room to store your supplies (not absolutely necessary; but very helpful). Ask the healthcare team or resident coordinator. Many schools will ensure that a refrigerator is in your room. Make sure your healthcare team gives you updated prescriptions, so you won't be out of test strips or insulin on the first day of class. Redundancy is important, especially for those students on insulin pumps and/or CGMSs. Pack extra supplies of everything, and make certain that you have refills on your prescription so that you or your family can get medication if necessary. It is a good idea to find a pharmacy close to campus so that, if necessary, medications and supplies can be filled locally.
Tell your roommate about your diabetes either before school starts or on the day you move in. They need to know that you have diabetes so they know what to do (for more information about sharing your diagnosis click here) if there is an emergency or even if you are slightly "low." Besides, it is much better if you talk to them rather than your worried parents. I would suggest teaching them a bit about diabetes, showing them your equipment (so they do not freak out about needles and syringes), and teaching them how to administer glucagon in an emergency. Believe me, they will want to be prepared should something happen. I also recommend that you talk with your Resident Advisor so they are fully informed about your diabetes and how to handle emergencies.
At Children's National, we provide e-mail addresses and phone numbers of our healthcare team to our patients so that they can contact us on their own for insulin adjustments, blood sugar evaluations, and other questions that might come up unexpectedly. We also might recommend local pediatric endocrinologists and provide contact information should a patient need to be seen "in person" for any particular reason.
Your life will be vastly different on a college campus. My suggestion is to monitor blood sugars often, as it may be more difficult to count carbohydrates in the typical college setting. Some universities actually offer a variety of meals, allowing you to take advantage of healthy food choices (if you can). However, despite your best efforts, it will be difficult in the beginning to guess the amount of carbs in your food correctly. Therefore, you should take advantage of correction opportunities by testing as often as necessary. Also, be careful of parties where alcohol may be present. Since you will most likely walk to class, be observant for low blood sugars that might spring up unexpectedly. Of course, you should carry some form of rapid carbohydrate on your person at all times to correct any lows. Include in your backpack the same supplies that you carried in high school.
Most importantly, have a great time. College provides the greatest opportunity to take advantage of different experiences...safely. The biggest difference is that now you will have no one to nag, advise, feed, or tell you what to do. You are now in charge. Remember that your computer and cell phone are just inches away and you can always call your healthcare team for advice and support. I bet they are waiting to hear from you!
Lastly, reassure your families frequently. They are probably even more anxious than you!