School Physical
Reasons to Get One, What to Expect, Associated Risks & More

School Physical May Also be Known as:

  • School doctor’s exam
  • Back-to-school physical
  • Annual physical
  • Yearly physical
  • Pre-enrollment physical



What is a School Physical?

Getting ready to send your kids back to school comes with a full to-do list. You probably have lots of school supplies to purchase, new clothes to find, and more. You also may need to take your child for their school physical. Depending on the state you live in and what grade your child is entering, this physical may be required before your child is allowed to enroll, but even if it isn’t, getting your child a physical before the start of the school year is never a bad idea. Your child’s school physical is important because their physician will make sure they are healthy enough to take on the school year successfully. 

5 Reasons You Would Need a School Physical

1. Preventive Screening

During a school physical, parents talk to doctors about their children’s past injuries, surgeries, and hospitalizations and about the family’s medical history. This gives the doctor insight into whether the child is at risk for heart disease, cancer, and other serious health conditions that run in the family or could stem from previous medical events. In some cases, doctors talk to your child about the safety and risks surrounding sex, smoking, and alcohol and drug use.

These types of preventive screening methods can help determine whether your child is at risk for preventable illnesses and diseases and certain mental health and behavioral disorders.[1] Your child might undergo blood, skin, and urine testing to be screened for these illnesses.

2. School Requirement

Many schools and school districts require children to receive a school physical before admittance.[2] A school physical helps ensure kids are up to date on vaccines, which protect your children from serious, life-threatening diseases. A school physical can also help schools determine whether they have the proper resources needed to educate children with special needs. Prior to the new school year, parents must turn in paperwork to schools that prove their children have received a school physical and the latest required vaccines.

3. Sports Requirement

Any child who plays sports in school is at risk for getting hurt or suffering an injury. Some schools advise children to receive a school physical or sports physical prior to playing sports.[3] This allows the school to prepare for any health or medical problems your child might have as a result of past injury or hospitalization or other factors. The doctor might also screen for allergic reactions to determine whether playing conditions, such as fields that attract bees and other stinging insects, could put certain kids at risk.

4. Behavioral Screening

A school physical might include behavioral screenings for alcohol and drug abuse, sexual activity, and mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. Behavioral screenings also help determine whether your child experiences any developmental delays or problems that require treatment. Doctors ask children how they usually cope with negative emotions, such as anger and sadness, and they ask parents about changes at home that could indirectly affect the child’s behavior, such as the addition of a new family member. Children sometimes undergo screening for ADHD, which affects an estimated 5% of U.S. children.[4]

5. Vaccinations

Vaccinations are often part of a school physical. Many children receive required vaccinations before the age of 2 and booster shots every year thereafter as part of back-to-school physicals. Vaccines help protect your children against deadly, infectious illnesses and diseases, and they contribute to improved public safety.[5]

Vaccines administered during a school physical might include those that prevent hepatitis A and B, chickenpox, meningitis, HPV, influenza, and many other diseases and viruses.[6] Some vaccines cause body or muscle pain, discomfort, fever, and other symptoms, but doctors can prescribe pain relievers for children who experience these side effects.

Understanding a School Physical

A yearly school physical helps you monitor your child’s growth and development in terms of physical, emotional, and mental health. A school physical can screen your child for potential health problems and lower the risk for infectious illnesses and diseases using vaccinations. The purpose of a school physical is to ensure your child is in good overall health and meets certain health requirements put in place by schools, school districts, and school sports teams.

Risks of a School Physical

A school physical might require your child to undergo one or more invasive procedures, such as blood testing and vaccination. The doctor might ask your child questions that could make them feel embarrassed and uncomfortable, such as those pertaining to sexual activity and signs of puberty. Parents can either be present or absent during a school physical to make the experience more comfortable for their child.

Blood tests can cause discomfort and bruising at the site of needle entry, and dizziness or lightheadedness occurs in some instances. Vaccines can produce a range of side effects depending on the type of vaccine administered. For example, the chickenpox vaccine can produce side effects of fever and rash, and the influenza vaccine (flu shot) can cause side effects that include headache, cough, and fever.[7]

What to Expect With a School Physical

During a school physical, the doctor might ask the parents and child about the family’s medical history and about the child’s personal medical history. This helps the doctor identify whether the child is at risk for any serious genetic illnesses and diseases, making an early diagnosis possible.

At the appointment, the doctor records your child’s weight, height, blood pressure, and heart rate. Your child might also undergo vision and hearing testing and evaluations for posture, strength, and flexibility. The doctor might examine your child’s heart, lungs, abdomen, nose, mouth, teeth, and throat. Some doctors include other health screenings and services, such as drug testing, in the school physical.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About a School Physical

  • How do I prepare for my child’s school physical?
  • Will my child receive vaccinations during the physical?
  • How many vaccinations will my child receive during the appointment?
  • Do the vaccines have any side effects?
  • How long do the vaccines last?
  • Can my child be diagnosed with a physical or mental illness during the appointment?
  • Does my child’s known health condition prevent them from going to school this year?
  • Is my child’s height and weight considered normal and healthy for their age?

Sources

  1. National Library of Medicine. Schools & Health: Our Nation's Investment: Guidelines for Adolescent Preventive Services. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK232700/
  2. District of Columbia Public Schools. School Health Requirements. https://dcps.dc.gov/page/school-health-requirements
  3. New Hampshire Department of Education. Pre-Enrollment Physicals. https://www.education.nh.gov/instruction/school_health/faq_physicals.htm#examination
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Data & Statistics. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Making the Vaccine Decision. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/vaccine-decision/index.html
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Put Vaccination on Your Back-to-School List. https://www.cdc.gov/features/back-to-school-vaccines/index.html
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Possible Side-effects from Vaccines. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/side-effects.htm#flu

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