Navigating the ups and downs of adolescence can be like riding a roller coaster. Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago acknowledges and recognizes that adolescence is often messy and brings a whirlwind of emotions. With the commitment of trained health specialists, our Adolescent Primary Care program offers young adults, ages 12-25, tailored care throughout the transition to adulthood.
“What distinguishes the Lurie Children’s Adolescent Primary Care program is that all of our team members are well-versed in the developmental changes that occur during adolescence and view adolescents and young adults in the context of their environment – their family, school and community,” says Dr. Lisa Simons, Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Lurie Children’s.
Established in October 2018 and located at Lurie Children’s Outpatient Center in Lincoln Park, the main goal behind the program is to help adolescents emerge as healthy young adults.
“In addition to making sure adolescents are receiving vaccinations and medical care, we recognize that there are physical changes in puberty, social and neurobiological changes and shifts in brain development in how adolescents respond and make judgements,” says Dr. Simons. “We provide primary care through a specific adolescence lens, recognizing that young adults are undergoing a number of changes in their lives.”
Some adolescents struggle more than others during the period between childhood and adulthood. There is also a heightened sense of independence and responsibility. Despite the culmination of new experiences and increased tension, Lurie Children’s physicians want young people to know that they are not alone.
“We try to offer a variety of services because each adolescent has unique needs and requires tailored care,” says Dr. Simons. “When we created this program, everything was developed with an adolescent focus and mindset, so our practices respect adolescents. This means offering confidential services when they want it and explaining what confidential services and limits to confidentiality are.”
Our physicians, medical social workers and psychologists all have a specific interest in caring for adolescents. They screen regularly for common emotional health issues, such as poor self-esteem, substance use and abuse, anxiety, depression, self-injurious behavior and suicidality. Counseling is available to help with these conditions, as well as bullying, emotional hardships and family communication.
This service takes an in-depth look at each adolescent’s individual environment to determine factors that may impact their health. Examples include: evaluating chronic health conditions, assessing nutrition and performing physicals.
It is not out of the ordinary for young women to experience challenges with their menstrual cycles. Adolescent Medicine specialists routinely evaluate and manage a variety of menstrual disorders. Additionally, they offer contraception counseling and management and long- acting reversible contraception (LARC) in clinic. As part of adolescent medical training, our physicians are trained in gynecological and sexual health. There are even gynecologists on site who partner with Lurie Children’s physicians from Northwestern Medicine Prentice Women’s Hospital.
A core part of adolescence care is making sure adolescents have an active voice and feel comfortable when discussing their personal medical care. By instilling an adolescent-empowered approach, a healthcare visit is not just a clinician talking to a patient, but a young person engaged in a healthcare discussion. Our physicians initiate one-on-one conversations, which gives patients practice speaking about their own healthcare needs. Through education and collaboration with pediatricians, teens and young adults learn how to make a smooth transition into adulthood.
“We must recognize that adolescents are not just big kids or small adults, but they have health needs that are distinct,” emphasizes Dr. Simons. “Adolescence is a time of growth and development, but also vulnerability. Adolescents are figuring out who they are and who they want to be. It’s important that they’re surrounded by adults who are checking in on what’s going on in their lives and can provide guidance. Our goal is to help adolescents learn to make healthy choices for themselves.”