Medical Director

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.”

Photo Credit: Aaron Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

The last week of school is often the most stressful for students, and a potential side effect of that stress is shingles, according to Theresa Spalding, University Health Services medical director.

Shingles, a skin rash caused by the same virus responsible for chicken pox that affects approximately 1 million people in the U.S. each year, is most common in adults older than 60, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website.

“[Shingles is] unusual in the younger-aged population, but we actually do see it a fair amount,” Spalding said. “We see it a lot with stress. That tends to bring it out.”

Since September, UHS has diagnosed 50 cases of shingles, which is near its average of 63 to 70 yearly cases since 2010, Spalding said. She said physical illness or mental stress can lower the body’s resistance to viruses.

Chris Sullivan, molecular biosciences associate professor, said a variety of genetic and environmental factors such as stress, diet or other infections can contribute to the virus.

Sullivan said people often don’t get shingles until later in life because many of them have had chicken pox, so their bodies have already developed an adaptive immune response.

Sullivan said, after someone has chicken pox, the virus remains dormant in that person’s body.

“It kind of crawls back into a neuron, and it’ll stay there the rest of your life, but, for some people, later in life … it crawls back out,” Sullivan said.

Devin Tayne, a history and art history senior who currently has shingles on her arm, said a doctor diagnosed her with the disease on Thursday, forcing her to take time off work to recover.

“Taking off so much work — that’s like $200-plus that I won’t be getting, so that’s stressful,” Tayne said. “Being the last week of school and not being able to work for such a long time is just adding stress. It’s funny — stress is what opened up the opportunity for me to get the shingles.”

Tayne said the virus has also made it difficult for her to type and drive.

“It kind of feels … like I pulled my muscles,” Tayne said. “It’s more of a really irritating pain more than anything.”

Despite this year’s flu season affecting younger and middle-aged adults more, officials at University Health Services, better known as UHS, say the number of influenza-related cases they treated this year are lower than last year.

Since January 2014, UHS reported 27 influenza-related cases compared to 99 cases reported at the same time last year, according to UHS Medical Director Theresa Spalding. Spalding said she hopes UHS’s flu shot campaign is helping keep the number of cases down.

“Hopefully, it’s just more of the students are taking more precautions and being more aware,” Spalding said.

At the end of February, the City of Austin reported 19 deaths from influenza, 11 of whom were under the age of 60. 

Influenza A (H3N2), 2009 influenza A (H1N1) and influenza B viruses have all been identified in the U.S. this flu season, with H1N1 viruses predominating, according to the Center for Disease Control. 

Philip Huang, medical director of the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department, said the 2009 H1N1 does seem to affect younger adults, especially pregnant women and those with chronic conditions, more severely than other age groups because of their lack of exposure to similar strains.

“Typically, seasonal flu affects those that are older and the very young children more severely,” Huang said. “This particular strain is similar to some that have been seen in the past in that some of the older populations have developed some immunity to some of the H1N1 components.”

Undergraduate studies sophomore Bryan Luedecke said he got vaccinated early in the semester at UHS to avoid getting sick.

“I think vaccinations are extremely important because they not only protect you, the degree to which is debatable, but they also protect others from the flu,” Luedecke said. “If people aren’t getting vaccinated, it creates problems for you and those unvaccinated people around you.”