Navigating Your Health: A Young Adult’s Guide To Annual Healthcare

By Audrey Gabriel, SBHA Youth Advisory Council member 

Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s proven difficult for most people to keep up with their annual appointments. Whether it’s making it into your primary care physician’s office for a yearly check-up or scheduling an appointment with a specialist, finding a time to be seen that works for you and your doctor is a challenge. For myself, a 21-year-old college student in charge of all my appointments and transitioning from a pediatrician to an “adult” doctor, sometimes the hardest part is just sitting down and finding a time to call the office. 

Despite all this, it’s still important to make it to these annual visits- and for good reason! Yearly check-ups are done to ensure you don’t have any significant health issues. Annual blood work, vaccinations, and screenings are completed routinely so you will stay at your healthiest. You bring your car in for routine maintenance, and in the same way, you must do the same for your body! Prevention is key to taking care of yourself and keeping up with your yearly appointments. 

Admittedly, this is much easier said than done. Hopefully, this guide lays out a framework that allows you to take agency in your health and help you keep up with your yearly appointments. 

What appointments should I be going to, and how frequently? 

  • Primary Care Provider → Yearly 
  • Seeing a primary care provider or a family doctor is important to your annual care and plays a significant role in preventative medicine. These physicians complete a physical exam, take your medical history, give vaccinations, write prescriptions, and can send you for additional screenings like exams or a referral to a specialist. 
  • Dentist (Teeth & Oral Health Doctor) → Every six months or Yearly 
  • Regular dental visits also play a prominent role in maintaining your health. To prevent any problems from developing, you should see a dentist every six months or once a year for a cleaning and X-rays when necessary.  
  • Gynecologist (Vagina & Reproductive Health Doctor) → Yearly 
  • For people with vaginas, it is vital to start seeing a gynecologist at 21 to begin routine screening for cancer and other conditions. A gynecologist will perform a pap smear, pelvic exam, and breast exam to ensure no abnormalities.  
  • Ophthalmologist (Eye Doctor) → Yearly or Every 2 Years 
  • Even if you don’t have glasses or wear contacts, routine eye and vision examinations are important to preventative medicine. Once you turn 20, the American Optometric Association recommends an eye exam yearly or every two years to address any vision problems that may develop.  
  • Dermatologist (Skin Doctor) → Yearly 
  • Especially if you have a family history of skin conditions, seeing a dermatologist once a year is essential to being proactive with your health and screening for any cancers or abnormalities. 

How do I keep track of all of these? 

  1. Plan Ahead When You Can! 

Now that you know what providers you should see keeping track of them is another feat. Making the initial appointment is the most important part of the process. For most general practices, appointments are booked far in advance, so if you’re hoping to be seen at a particular time, try and plan ahead. It is not uncommon to book six months in advance, though that time can vary from practice to practice. 

2. Call The Office! 

Most offices have you call to find availability, while some have online portals. I have found that calling is the most efficient way to get an appointment booked– even though I love the convenience of online portals, sometimes, not all the available options are shown. More often than not, the appointments are months out and difficult to find online. Sometimes I struggle with knowing what to say on phone calls, so I take a few steps to ensure that I’m prepared. First, I find a quiet place with few distractions and write a script for what to say in advance.  

I make to address the following things: 

  • Introduce yourself. 
  • Say what you want to see them for: “I’m calling to schedule my ____ appointment.” 
  • Include a date or a period of availability that works for your possible appointment(s). 
  • Ask for any other available dates if none of those are available. 
  • Make sure to leave a callback number if you are sent to voicemail. 

3. Write It Down! 

Once you have an appointment booked, the most important thing to do is write it down so that you don’t forget! Whether it’s putting it in your phone and setting a reminder a week in advance or writing it down in your calendar, you did the hard work, and now all you need to do is show up! Be sure to be on time for your appointment to avoid any possible late or no-show fees, and if you find that a time no longer works for you, call as soon as you know of any conflicts to reschedule. 

It’s certainly not easy to be a young adult and navigate all these things yourself. Still, with practice, you will continue to build the skills and gain the experiences necessary to being independent and having agency in your health.