Back-to-school health: Ready those pencils, pens, crayons … and physical exam

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A physical, and update of immunizations and vaccinations, are keys to a healthy start to the upcoming school term, says family physician Dr. Jawwad Hussain, of Vista Family Medicine, Little Company of Mary Medical Group. | SUPPLIED PHOTO


Put 20 to 30 children in a classroom together, and sooner or later you’ll hear coughs and sneezes. You’ll see things passed around by hand … notebooks, pens, papers, trinkets, candy, whatever.

That classroom is an incubator, and not just for knowledge. Breathing the same air and contact with the same objects are avenues for all sorts of maladies, given and received. A school is not sterile.

That’s why parents are wise to act before school starts to arm their children with a double dose of protection, said family practice physician Dr. Jawwad Hussain of Vista Family Medicine, Chicago, part of Little Company of Mary’s Medical Group.

July and August for both a back-to-school physical examination and a check and update of immunizations and vaccinations. There are some strong advantages to this two-pronged defense against school-year medical problems, Dr. Hussain said.

First, many schools will not admit students whose immunizations are not up-to-date. Second, it can take two weeks after a vaccination for the body’s immune system to generate the protection against some diseases. Third, an exam can uncover latent medical and other problems so a plan of action can be in place before school starts.

And fourth, a “physical” is more than just about body health. For Hussain and his student-patients, it’s about all the things that affect health: habits, lifestyle, environment … and emotional development.

That means a more holistic approach to the traditional “physical,” and getting there requires developing a relationship with the one you and your child call “Doctor.”

“It’s not just about physical needs. It’s about treating the entire person,” he said.

“Not only is it an opportunity to identify any physical or developmental problems, but it also is an opportunity for the physician to develop a rapport with the child, making the child more apt to seek help when they require it,” Hussain said.

The physical involves the “usual” -- height, weight, temperature, pulse, blood pressure, health history, check the abdomen, and listen to the heart and lungs. But Hussain takes it further. He wants to know the “issues” that can cause problems now and later so a plan of action can be put together.

For children age 10 and under, this might include whether the child is stressed, whether they have friends, daily TV/computer time, what they eat, how they view school, physical activity, is there any bullying at school?.

“It is important for their physician to monitor emotional development, especially during adolescence, when bullying is unfortunately quite prevalent,” he said.

With children over age 10, Hussain said he will spend more time on emotional development to “make sure they are adjusting well” to their teens, a “more tumultuous time.” He will want to know such things as whether they have a boyfriend or girlfriend. He will also cover problems associated with smoking, alcohol and drug abuse.

“Fifty percent of being a physician is counseling, and the physical is a good place to educate the parents and the student,” he said.

He likes spending time talking with the child alone, too, because “a lot of times children feel more comfortable when the parents are not in the room, and they can discuss their concerns more privately.” If there is a problem, such as bullying, Hussain then brings the parents in to develop a course of action.

He also talks to the parents “about what they’re seeing, possible sources of problems, things the parents know,” both social and academic.

Hussain said this interest in the child’s emotional development is important because it has an effect on the physical.

Obesity, for example, has a wide range of causes, not always diet. It can also have a wide range of lasting effects: diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and early onset of heart disease.

This kind of holistic approach to family medicine, centered around the child, is “an investment in the child’s present, and an investment in the child’s future,” Hussain said.

Immunizations also are an investment, both present and future. Not only do they protect your child, but also other children who may not have been immunized.

Hussain will use a computerized record to check that they are up-to-date for measles, mumps, Hepatitis A & B, rubella and pneumonia. He may also schedule a flu vaccination, when it becomes available, in preparation for the “flu season” that typically rages from from October to April.

Some vaccinations can also reduce the risk of developing cervical and penile cancer, he said.

Hussain said a common recommendation is to have a physical exam once a year. So it makes sense to dovetail it with all the other preparations for going back-to-school.

Little Company of Mary’s Medical Group (Vista Location) is at 10961 S. Kedzie Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Hussain or another skilled physician, please call 773.239.9100. To view Dr. Hussain’s and other Little Company of Mary’s Medical Group physician profiles, visit