Health Matters

Q & A: Back-to-School Physicals

Aug. 18, 2017

Kids are returning to school and it’s a good time for parents to check in with the pediatrician to see if their children are due for an annual physical. UR Medicine pediatrician Dr. Anne Ryan answers some common questions about well-child visits.female physician giving a young girl a check-up

Q: How often does my child need a physical?

A: School-aged children need a physical once a year. Even if your child has seen the doctor for illnesses or other health concerns in the past 12 months, it’s important to have a physical, too, for a “check-up” to review your child’s growth and development. If you aren’t sure if your child is due for a physical, ask your pediatrician’s office.

Q: Why are physicals important to my child’s school?

A: Schools want to verify that students are healthy and are receiving care from a doctor. In order to help keep all students healthy and safe, they also want to be sure that students’ immunizations are up to date, and that proper screenings (like blood pressure, vision testing and hearing testing) have taken place.

Q: What if my child plays sports?

A: If a physical is required for your child to participate in sports or in after-school recreational programs, it’s helpful to bring the paperwork to your child’s physical appointment. You should let the doctor know if your child has had any recent injuries, like sprains, broken bones or concussions. Ask your doctor for safety advice for your child’s sport; pediatricians are always happy to talk about ways to keep kids healthy and safe!

Q: What if I can’t get a physical scheduled in time for the beginning of the school year?

A: Talk to the nurse at your child’s school. School nurses usually provide some leeway for students who can’t get their physicals scheduled in time for the beginning of the school year.

Q: What should I expect at my child’s physical?

A: Screening tests—like a vision check, hearing test or even blood work to look for signs of high cholesterol or anemia—may be needed, depending on the age of your child. Expect to talk about exercise, healthy eating, healthy sleep patterns, family routines and behavior issues. With patients’ and parents’ permission, pediatricians often set time aside to talk alone with teenage patients about healthy decision-making as they get older.

Q: My child needs to take medications while at school. How can the doctor help?

A: Many children with medical conditions like ADHD, asthma, severe allergies, diabetes and others need to take medications while they are at school. Your child’s doctor can provide written instructions to the school for medication use during the school day, and can sometimes provide extra medication for the school to give (for example, a spare “rescue inhaler” to leave with the school nurse for your child in case he or she develops asthma symptoms while at school).

Q: What immunizations (shots) does my child need for school?

A: Children who are 4-5 years of age and are beginning school for the first time are usually due for the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) immunization, the varicella (chickenpox) immunization, and a DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis/whooping cough) immunization, as well as a polio booster shot.

By the time they begin 6th grade (around age 11), kids are due for tetanus and pertussis booster shots, and HPV (human papillomavirus) and meningitis immunizations are recommended. If your child missed any immunizations at a younger age, the pediatrician may give “catch-up” immunizations, too, in order to keep your child protected from illnesses.

Q: What if I have questions or concerns about getting my child immunized?

A: Many parents have questions about immunizations. Our office, like many, recommends immunizing children according to the Centers for Disease Control immunization schedule and American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines, and we provide accurate information to families who are hesitant about immunizations or who have questions about them. It is important to us to address your concerns about immunizations and to provide sound guidance and advice about this issue, since there is much misinformation available online about vaccines. For parents who choose not to immunize their children, schools usually have a religious or personal exemption form that families can complete. Your pediatrician may also ask you to sign a form certifying that you have discussed immunizations together, and that you have decided not to immunize your child.


Anne B. Ryan, M.D.


Anne B. Ryan, M.D., cares for adults and children at UR Medicine Primary Care - Bushnell's Basin and new pediatric patients are welcome. Call (585) 758-0800.