By Maureen McMullen
Working with college students has always been Sheryl Olson’s favorite aspect of her career as a nurse practitioner. As the newest nurse practitioner at MSUM’s Hendrix Health Center, Olson will be able to do just that.
With more than a decade of experience in college health, Olson is familiar not only with the dynamics of college health practices, but also with the MSUM campus. From 1983 to 1987, Olson worked as a nurse practitioner for Hendrix Health while it was still located in the basement of Dahl.
“I’ve been a nurse practitioner since 1981—that’s a really long time—and I’ve always said my favorite job is college health,” Olson said. “I can’t believe I’m back here. That’s pretty fun to be not only back at a college, but to be on the same campus as I was before.”
Olson provides a full range of general health services as an adult nurse practitioner, specializing in women’s health services such as pap smears, birth control consultation, STI screenings and pregnancy testing.
Lynn Peterson, coordinator for sexual assault services and wellness education program director at Hendrix, attributes much of Olson’s prowess in women’s health and in college health to her “welcoming and friendly” personality.
“I watch when [Olson] comes out and gets a student, and you can tell she puts them at ease just through the manner in which she acts. That’s not something you can always teach people,” said Peterson. “For so many women that might be their first [pap smear exam] or they’re exploring the options of birth control, and they’ve never had that opportunity before. Here’s a safe place and someone who knows college students and is an expert in the area.”
Hendrix Health Centers’ services, however, are not limited to women’s health. Despite having a nurse practitioner, full-time physician, licensed psychologists and a psychiatrist, Olson and Peterson agree that many MSUM students are unaware of Hendrix’s presence on campus and the range of services it provides.
“One thing we’ve realized is that students are like, ‘Hendrix is a clinic? I thought maybe it was an academic building,’” said Peterson. “So, I’m hoping that we can get market and educate more so that the students are aware of both the medical and counseling services.”
Hendrix accepts most insurance plans for their services, which include immunizations, mental health screenings and counseling, low-cost lab services and wellness education.
“If [students] don’t know there are services here, they might not choose to have services because they might not have a car to drive them to Essentia or someplace like that,” said Peterson. “So, we’re working together with the campus to help students understand that this is a clinic and it’s for them.”
In Olson’s 13 years as a college health professional, she’s observed the important role physical and mental health play in the success of students. Motivated by this correlation between health and academic success, Olson said she will prioritize students’ awareness of Hendrix’s services over the semester.
“If we have healthy students they’re going to enjoy college and stay in school. If they’re overly stressed, they’re not sleeping, their grades are poor, they’re more apt to quit,” said Olson. “We want to work really hard to have a well-rounded health center so we can provide good care to the college students here, and the whole idea is to attract students, but more than that, retain students.”