Buildings and Places, Equity Diversity & Inclusion, Healthcare

With the much-anticipated return to campus, the intersection of student success and public health has never been so important. As we collectively move forward on a path to recovery, college campuses are navigating critical issues brought to the forefront during the pandemic – diversity, inclusion, mental health, and equitable access to social infrastructure. When college campuses shifted from in-person learning to online instruction, it revealed a range of inequities for many students, including accessibility and healthcare. While some universities have increased their support for nontraditional students in the past 5-10 years, the need for balanced programs focused on the success of traditional and nontraditional students has only heightened.

Access to healthcare is the foundation of helping students achieve a balance between mind and body. On-campus ambulatory clinics are essential spaces where students can get the support the need, both mentally and physically. Here are three ways college campuses can support students by promoting equity, advancing career opportunities, and improving mental health and wellness through the adoption of campus ambulatory clinics.

Promoting Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
Campuses must regularly redefine their Student Services programs as the needs of their students are perpetually evolving. Historically, this has meant academic counseling and tutoring, advisory, financial aid and career services. However, over the past decade, the definition has broadened to include additional services for  specific student needs including accessibility for disabled students, unique situations such as migratory farm worker students, the broad range of first generation college student needs, and the ever expanding minority student populations including Asian/Pacific Islanders, LatinX, LGBTQ students and others.  The emphasis in each case is to increase graduation rates while decreasing time to degree completion. This broadened scope of a Student Success Center more effectively incorporates these diverse range of backgrounds and needs. It connects support groups that have specialized skills to help students learn strategies for success in the academic realm and ultimately will support them in their careers. As designers, architects and planners, we work with campuses to analyze their program offerings in pre-design or feasibility study phases. We understand best practices and can guide universities to being better equipped to address equity and inclusivity in part through campus clinics. This work helps ensure success in academic achievement to the broadest possible definition of the “student body.”

Advancing Student Career Opportunities
Designing and running a campus clinic is not often included in campus operations, so universities frequently turn to trusted partners to help develop these essential spaces. These partnerships create opportunities for students by creating important connections between the academy and industry.  This connection is mutually beneficial, expanding the clinical provider’s market share while generating a new revenue stream for the campus. From our experience in the healthcare industry, we help campuses explore the range of industry partners and support ways that these outside providers can deliver quality care while also conducting job training for students that are aligned with future health professions.  

When allied health students work in these clinics, they receive valuable, on-the-job training for their careers. At the same time, the lower wages for student caregivers allow industry providers to operate the clinics in a more cost-effective way. When students work with medical professionals and their student colleagues in other disciplines, they also develop important team-building skills in real-life situations that will be integral in their careers.

Improving Mental Health and Wellness
The pursuit of academic excellence can create high levels of stress for any student, especially students without an established network of support among family, friends, and trusted mentors. These campus clinics can also provide mental health services for the student body as part of their offering. For this reason, their design requires sensitivity in planning to create and maintain privacy, discretion, and ease of access.

When we think about program adjacencies, academic counseling sessions can align with mental health screenings, and vice versa.  Referrals can be made discretely in a private setting with immediate access to care. To further increase student access to care, discrete entries with covered outdoor circulation and internal visual separation for the rooms that are designated to mental health services can maintain the privacy of all students seeking help. This design creates ease as it significantly diminishes the potential of students being exposed to suffering the stigma that sometimes is associated with these types of services.

At the intersection of student success and public health, campus clinics play a critical role in supporting the balance of mind and body. They also help universities to address inequity and promote inclusion for all students and the neighborhoods around these college campuses. When planned thoughtfully, the location – building or district – of campus clinics can promote accessibility, address multifaceted issues and advance wellbeing. When these critical social infrastructure components are integrated into shared spaces, all students can thrive.  

Mark McVay

Originally published Jul 15, 2021

Author: Mark McVay

Mark McVay is a principal with AECOM’s Buildings + Places practice in Los Angeles. He has worked for over 30 years as an architect and focuses on bringing strategic and creative direction to projects in the higher education, healthcare, and corporate markets.