Menacing the health of every student the so-called Health Department of the University is in urgent need of drastic and immediate re-organization. Not only is the medical advice rendered at Holyoke House often careless and incompetent but also the facilities for caring for sick students are unsanitary, obsolete, and overtaxed.
These statements are no mere generalities but are based upon actual records and careful study. A few cases will suffice to illustrate the dangerous conditions that exist. There have been numerous instances where appendicitis symptoms have not been recognized by the medical advisers. In one case recently a student complained of a pain in his stomach. The doctors prescribed castor oil (a thing which every Freshman in Hygiene is warned against). That night he was taken to the hospital with appendicitis.
Another student slipped and hurt his ankle. He was told he had sprained it. Three days later he found it was broken. One student was placed in the measles ward before the doctors knew for certain that he was afflicted. Another student with a cold and a high temperature was moved from one ward to another, the change in temperature brought about an attack of pneumonia. Another case illustrates the careless diagnosis of the physicians, even though it was but a minor ailment. A student complaining of a sore finger was told by the doctor there was nothing wrong. Upon leaving the office he asked the nurse to look at his finger. She did so and removed a sliver of glass, but probably it was a very small piece. These cases are not unique, unusual, nor isolated ones. They represent only too clearly the actual state of affairs.
One reason for the poor and often menacing advice is the slipshod and hasty method of examination. Students are herded in and out of the offices with undue haste and the attitude of the doctors is usually one of intense boredom with the whole procedure. The average length of time spent in consultation with the doctor is about three minutes and rarely more than one or two minutes when the office is crowded. A student with a severe cough was examined by a doctor while he read a letter and hastily given a prescription for some inhalant. He was not interested in the symptoms, the examination was cursory, and the student's reaction was one of distrust and indignation.
As regards Stillman Infirmary, the conditions are equally appalling. The building and equipment are obsolete. The building is drafty. In periods of epidemics it is often overtaxed. A long ride through frigid corridors is necessary to reach the X-ray machine. The lack of proper shower and bathroom equipment is another source of annoyance to patients. Indifferent or incompetent supervision often results in students with contagious diseases being confined in wards with others who are susceptible to affliction.
Maintenance of health among the students is no luxury but a necessary function where so many persons are gathered together in close contact. There is no excuse for incompetency, carelessness, or indifference on the part of those responsible for this work. It should be platitudinous to remark that an intimate relationship exists between physical well-being and academic success.
What is needed? First of all, competent medical advisers who are not treating students as part time work in addition to a personal practice. Second, modern medical equipment housed in a building capable of successfully caring for all students in any emergency.
The first can and should be accomplished without any undue financial burden to the University. A doctor or doctors should be employed who will devote their entire time to giving medical advice and attention to students. If competency replaces incompetency, careful diagnosis replaces careless and indifferent examination, and thoroughness replaces haste, a great deal will be accomplished. Perhaps, then, replacement of Stillman Infirmary can await the day when some philanthropist may see fit to provide Harvard with new facilities for caring for the sick. But some drastic reform and reorganization must take place now and University Hall should undertake some investigation of the prevailing menace. It is not a request but an earnest plea on behalf of students who depend so vitally upon these facilities.