There is a range of welfare and support services available to you during your time at Oxford and we will continue to support all of our students throughout the unsettling times of the pandemic and beyond. Dr Rohit Kotnis is Secretary of the College Doctors Association and a GP at St Clements Surgery Oxford, which looks after Mansfield College and St Stephen’s House students. We spoke to him to understand how college doctors can help support students to thrive at the University.
What is the role of a college doctor for students’ mental health and wellbeing?
“If you are struggling to cope with your mental health, your college doctor is one of the options available to you who can help. Being part of your college network means that we understand the wider collegiate University system and can fully support you when the need may arise. Even if you are not directly affiliated with a college, all students have the option to register with a college doctor, safe in the knowledge that any information you share with us is confidential. College doctors are experienced GPs, and we see help people in the wider community to overcome mental health issues too. The College Doctors Association has also been involved with the organisers of the University’s Testing for COVID-19: Early Alert Service and we’re now supporting with testing and results from the Service.”
How can you help a student in need of support?
“There are a number of ways college doctors can support you through more challenging times. If you can, it’s helpful to consult with us early on before an issue might escalate further. After taking the time to understand your situation, we can then signpost you to other supportive services we think will be of most help to you and can also help with letters of support if you are struggling with your workload or deadlines.”
How have you been supporting students throughout the coronavirus pandemic?
“College doctors form part of a wider team of support to look after students during their time at Oxford. In particular, we work closely with College Nurses. As part of the College Doctors Association, college doctors liaise regularly with the Conference of Colleges, the University’s Student Welfare and Support Services and Junior Deans. This helps us to gain further insight in addition to our appointments with patients about the issues students have experienced as part of the pandemic, including the impact of social distancing and self-isolation on mental health.”
What’s the process like for making an appointment?
“We have been able to increase appointment capacity for students by introducing more telephone appointments as a result of the pandemic, which many find a more accessible way to reach out to us, especially in periods of self-isolation. Students also have the option to switch to a video assessment appointment if it might help us to further understand your situation. E-consults are another increasingly popular method of seeking initial advice. In-person appointments are also available, with all GP practices open and available for appointments for a full service except for weekends and bank holidays.”
What if students aren’t in Oxford?
“If you are at your permanent home address outside of Oxford, you can still stay registered with your College Doctor practice. If there is an issue that needs a face to face contact or more support than we can offer remotely, you could look to temporarily register with your home GP. We would encourage you to continue to check in with us for continuity to keep us informed so we can best support you during more challenging times.”
What action would you take if a student were in an emergency mental health situation?
“If ever a situation arose whereby there was significant concern for your personal safety, we would always raise our concerns with you directly in the first instance. We might suggest you make an appointment to see us so we can help with making a decision on the best way we can help you. We may also suggest you liaise with your college welfare team.
Confidentiality is maintained unless there is a significant and imminent danger of harm to yourself or others or if we are required by Law. This is part of our duty of care to you as our patient and our responsibility as GPs to the General Medical Council. This approach ensures that you are as fully supported as possible by the right people in your network to help you on your way to recovery.”
“College doctors are aware of the issues students are facing as a result of the pandemic and we would like to hear from you if you are experiencing any problems. If you have not yet already done so, make sure you register with your college GP so in the event that you might need support at any time, we’re ready to help you. If something isn’t going well, you feel overly stressed or unable to cope or you’re struggling with your studies and feel you would benefit from an extension – your college doctor can help with your consent to support you.”
For more information about the support available to all students, visit the University’s welfare and wellbeing hub, plus the keeping you safe and well and welfare and wellbeing pages of the COVID-19 response site.