The myth of the mandatory “back to school” physical
August and September are super busy months in your local pediatrician’s office. School-aged students pour in by the hundreds for their “back to school” physicals. The waits are long and tempers run short as parents seek to have forms filled out and shot records updated. In reality, the back to school physical is a myth!
With proper planning, you can avoid the waits associated with this time of year.
The first few years of your child’s life are marked with frequent visits to the pediatrician. In the first two years alone you will see them for a well visit over ten times! As a child becomes older, however, those visits become less frequent. By age three your child will only require an annual well visit. So they will be seen at age three, then four, then five and so on.
Ideally, these visits occur around the time of the child’s birthday. So a 3-year-old born in December should be seen for a well visit on or after their birthday in December and then not again for a full year. If your child is in school or daycare, their physical and shot records are updated and new ones completed with each well child visit. These forms are adequate until the next well visit is due. If your child is starting school for the first time and has completed their well child visits and vaccinations on time, they do not need a “special” school physical. If you forgot to get a copy of the school forms at the last visit, however, you may incur a small secretarial fee.
Here’s how to keep this process smooth and avoid last minute visits.
- Complete suggested well visits in a timely fashion as close to the child’s birthday as possible—don’t wait for late summer/early fall if possible.
- The typical exam schedule after the first year is as follows: 12 months, 15 months, 18 months, 24 months, 30 months, 3 years, 4 years, etc.
- Stay on schedule when it comes to completing vaccines. Delaying vaccines may mean that your child is behind when it comes to enrolling at school and will require an extra visit to the doctor.
- At each well child visit, ask for a school physical form and updated vaccine record. Keep those at home and in duplicate so that when you need them, you have them on hand.
- If your child is not in school, get the forms anyway. The forms given at the 3-year (4-year, 5-year, etc.) check-up are valid for a full year. Many children enter school between age 3 and 4 so having the forms done means one less thing to do.
- The exception to this is when moving from one state to another. Each state has its own rules about school physical forms, and many require the forms to be filled out by a local doctor before entering school in a new state. When moving across state lines, check to see if new forms are needed or if the ones from your original state will do.