University Health Services appoints new medical director

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University Health Services appointed David Vander Straten as its new medical director. Vander Straten’s goals include improving the department’s student accessibility and removing the stigma toward seeking help with mental health.

Vander Straten, an Austin resident who previously worked as a general medicine physician at the University before becoming medical director, was appointed to the position Monday. He said he is excited to be a part of the team because he believes the staff is aware of the academic pressures students face and wants to make medical help available to them at convenient times.

“If you look at the providers, nurses, physician assistants and others, there is a wealth of experience,” Vander Straten said. “We’ve got a really strong core of providers that I think overall is really in tune with what the students’ needs are.”

UHS director Jamie Shutter said the department was looking for someone who can increase both the productivity and maximize resources in the clinic, while maintaining the quality of care.

“We don’t want to turn this place into a machine,” Shutter said. “The medical director is kind of the surgeon general of campus — when we have issues like Ebola, meningitis or hepatitis A, this person is the lead health authority on campus that helps us work through these health crises and inform the public.”

Vander Straten said one of his main goals as medical director is to help people better understand mental health diagnoses and remove their stigma.

“We know that depression and anxiety are incredibly present in our community, especially in our student population, so we need to continue to think strategically how we can best allocate our resources to address a growing number of students with these concerns,” Vander Straten said.

According to UHS, from 2013 to 2014, the department saw a total of 62,637 students and received a 97 percent satisfaction rate from their patients. In 2014, they were ranked in the top 10 of the Princeton Review Ranking for Top College Health Services in the U.S. 

According to Shutter, all decisions made by UHS aim to help students succeed academically. She said the position of medical director is a critical but tough role and believes Vander Straten is a good fit for the job.

“I am genuinely thrilled that we have David in this job,” Shutter said. “I am so optimistic about his potential … he’s just the ideal person for the role, and I am excited to have the privilege of working with him.”

Clinic volunteer Shyam Popat, Plan II honors senior and member of the Student Health Advisory Community, said he believes it’s crucial for health services to make students feel comfortable and hopes Vander Straten can provide patients with this assurance.

“UHS does a great job of having a lot of services for students, but one thing they could improve on is making the experience more personable,” Popat said. “From my interactions with [Vander Straten], he seems like the kind of person who can invoke those homey feelings into the department.”