Antibiotic resistance rises nationwide, Calvin Health Services reassures students


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year in the U.S. at least 2.8 million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and more than 35,000 people die as a result. Antibiotic resistant bacteria is when germs like bacteria and fungi develop the ability to resist the drugs designed to kill them. 

However, Dr. Laura Champion, the medical director at Health Services at Calvin University, assures the student population that there are avoidance methods towards antibiotic resistant bacteria and bacteria in general taking place at Calvin. 

Champion described how Health Services avoids antibiotic-resistant bacteria by always “[checking] compliance” with the treatment plan agreed upon. This means that Health Services will follow up with its patients to make sure they are following their treatment plan. Many times patients begin to feel better from the antibiotics, so they stop using them for the full amount of time prescribed. This can cause the bacteria to continue to fester, allowing for it to resist the antibiotic if it is reintroduced. The effects of this can be dangerous because antibiotic-resistant germs can spread across settings. This means that those germs can permeate through communities, the food supply, healthcare facilities, the environment and around the world. Thus, it is incredibly important to complete the entire treatment prescribed. Students should not expect to receive a prescription for antibiotics if they have a cold or the flu because antibiotics do not work on viruses, according to the CDC. 

When a student makes an appointment at Health Services and then attends it, the practitioners follow an algorithm-like process to diagnose and treat the patient. There is not a policy or obligation to prescribe antibiotics, instead there are, as Champion describes, “practice standards.” Doctors and nurses evaluate the history of the patient, their symptoms and any abnormal signs and then create a treatment for the patient. Often, when people imagine nurses and doctors treating them, they think that the medical professionals do all of the processing and decision making; however, Champion described how many medical professionals, including those at Health Services, are practicing a new form of decision making called “shared decision making.” Since the overwhelming majority of patients at Health Services are between the ages of 18 and 25 and are critical thinking college students, Champion said that she discusses the options of treatment with the patient, and they come to create the best treatment for that patient together. She finds that the students understand that treatment will take time and energy, so they work well alongside the doctor’s strong advice. This collaborative strategy still includes the medical professional’s expertise, but it also allows for the patient to understand the why and the how of the treatment. 

Additionally, Champion said that there tends to be a “cyclical nature to illnesses,” so if a student recognizes they are getting sick or they know they get sick during a specific time of the year, they should not be afraid to contact Health Services for help. Moreover, Health Services receives between 2,500-2,800 triage calls a year from students who would like advice over the phone. The best way to avoid antibiotic resistant bacteria is to prevent ever getting infected in the first place. Champion gave advice to constantly wash your hands for two Happy Birthday songs, and to not touch your eyes, nose or mouth with your hands. 

The issue of antibiotic resistant bacteria first became an issue around the 1940s with the introduction to penicillin, and as more antibiotics have been introduced the amount of antibiotic resistance has increased as well, according to the scientific paper “Antibiotic Resistance Crisis” by C. Lee Ventola MS. The CDC claims that the antibiotic resistant bacteria is “one of the biggest public health challenges of our time.”