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Student Health and Wellness Center Serves Otis Students’ Well-Being

The Center’s Dr. Julie Spencer and James Birks take a holistic approach to overall student health  
Halley Sutton

Students at Otis College of Art and Design enjoy the benefits of an on-campus Student Health and Wellness Center to keep them well while they’re working on their creative projects. Dr. Julie Spencer, director and physician of the Student Health and Wellness Center, oversees the health needs of students who visit the Center, along with James Birks, Director of Counseling Services, who oversees counseling services. 

“This is my fourth year at Otis and I was brought on to help build out the Student Health and Wellness Center,” Dr. Spencer says, adding that when she first started, only counseling services were available to students, not medical ones. The Center now offers holistic care for both undergraduate and graduate students in a dedicated space in Room 107 on the first floor of the Ahmanson building, where students can address any concerns for their physical and mental health. 

Otis College SHWCWhen starting at Otis College, students can opt to enroll in the health insurance coverage offered through the school to see Dr. Spencer at the Center. But Center services are not solely reserved for students who opt-in to the insurance. Those who have their own private health insurance also have access to the Center due to a small fee charged each semester that allows for access to everyone. 

The availability of the Student Health and Wellness Center is not lost on Otis students, who keep unconventional hours pursuing their creative endeavors. “We’ve definitely heard from a lot of students [who] thank you for being here, especially with how crazy their schedules can be,” Dr. Spencer says. 

On the counseling side, Birks says anxiety is the number one concern for students at Otis College (as it is for students nationwide). Birks has worked to reduce the stigma around mental health while increasing community bonds, and even started an anxiety therapy group for students. It’s an issue that particularly rises during high stress times in the academic year, such as the end of the semester when final projects are due, Birks says. 

To that end, both Birks and Dr. Spencer advocate for students to prioritize self-care, no matter what else is going on during the semester. Dr. Spencer says she tries to impress upon students the importance of getting enough sleep, making sure to stay hydrated, and remembering to eat. “We do see a lot of students who wear themselves down,” Dr. Spencer says. “Then their immune system is down, their psyche is down—it just snowballs.”

In addition to providing medical care and mental health support, the Student Health and Wellness Center also provides health promotion and wellness programming for the entire campus. “Some examples of the programs we have offered in the past are a women’s health symposium, alcohol awareness, and a suicide prevention awareness week,” Dr. Spencer says. “This upcoming academic year, the SHWC will be focusing its health promotion and outreach on the 8-dimensions of wellness, developed by SAMHSA.gov. The 8-dimensions of wellness promote overall quality of life by focusing on one’s wellness in all dimensions of life, not just their physical and mental wellness. The 8-dimensions also include social wellness, occupational wellness, emotional wellness, spiritual wellness, intellectual wellness, and financial wellness. The SHWC hopes that focusing campus programs on the 8-dimensions of wellness will educate students that their overall health and wellness is multi-faceted and lots of factors can affect [it].”

Dr. Spencer says she’s careful to put students’ needs first and to remember that every initiative for the health center needs to focus on what will help Otis students succeed in their academic careers. “Students are not here to come see us,” she says. “They’re here to get an education. And our job is just to make sure they’re the healthiest and happiest they can be to reach their goal of graduating.”

For more information about the Student Health and Wellness Center, click here.

Main photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash. 

Inset photo by Fawad Assadullah. Pictured, from left: Dr. Spencer, Janet Park (LMFT), Birks, and Allie Pashi (MHA).