Family Medicine Residency Clinic

Back to School: Doctors Answer Parents’ Questions

Back to school season is traditionally a time of anticipation and preparation—but this year, uncertainty is what many families in our community (as well as throughout the world) are experiencing. As you try to discern what to expect and what’s truly in the best interest of your children, a few of the resident physicians seeing pediatric patients at the Penn Highlands Healthcare Family Medicine Residency Clinic offer tips for your child’s protection when it comes to back to school safety in the time of COVID-19.

This week, family physician Dr. Donald Conrad, DO, supervised resident physicians Dr. Amy Trinh, DO, Dr. Diana Hricova, DO, and Dr. Megan Church, DO at the PHH Family Medicine Residency Clinic in the Medical Arts Building at 145 Hospital Avenue on the Penn Highlands DuBois West campus. The four physicians outlined the routine of a child’s school day, with Conrad, a physician for more than 30 years, noting that the quality of a child’s morning (and their ability to combat illness) can start even before they wake up. “Kids should be getting a good night’s sleep, be well rested, and start the day with a good healthy breakfast so that they don’t get rundown,” Conrad says. Church adds that even if kiddos happen to be learning remotely, they should wake up at a consistent time each morning. “Kids need structure,” she says. This includes having lunch or snack at a set time each day.

For students heading into the congregated classroom setting, particularly those whose parents have wisely minded social distancing protocols throughout the summer, it may be useful to get into a good habit of mask-wearing at home. “Have them start by wearing the mask for half an hour while they’re home playing,” Church says. “Gradually work them up, especially the little ones. They’re not used to it.” Some educators are most fond of plastic face shields to offer children the greatest comfort and freedom for nonverbal expression, especially for those who might find elastic or tie bands uncomfortable due to speech or sensory issues.

What should go in the backpack as they head out the door? Consider tissues so they’re not sneezing into their hands or the air (“Don’t cough on your friends!” the physicians noted), plenty of hand sanitizer (little ones should be educated not to lick their hands if the hand sanitizer is scented like fruit or sweets), perhaps an extra mask or two, and even alcohol prep pads or disinfecting wipes to regularly sanitize their desk surface and objects. Once they’re on their own, Conrad advises, children should be coached to “keep pencils and pens out of their mouths, and don’t bite their fingernails. That’s a great way to put any cold or stomach bug germs in the mouth.”

Engage in thoughtful discussion with your children’s educators about how the fundamentals will be managed: topics like social distancing between desks, the sanitization of shared electronic devices, the importance of reminding all children to keep their hands to themselves.

And no matter in which setting your children will learn this year, an important reminder before the first day: “Make sure to follow with their pediatrician or PCP,” says Hricova. For families who need a physician, the Penn Highlands Healthcare Family Residency Clinic focuses on “all the things that kids get,” says Conrad. This includes annual well checks, annual physicals, acute visits, earaches, rashes, and immunization updates. “More than ever, keep up with vaccines,” Conrad advises.

If your family needs a pediatrician or family physician, the Penn Highlands Physician Referral Line is available at 814-375-6644, or call 814-503-4305 to schedule an appointment with the Penn Highlands Healthcare Family Medicine Residency Clinic, which welcomes pediatric patients. Also visit to learn more. (Penn Highlands also offers a family medicine residency clinic in Brookville in conjunction with the Brookville Rural Health Center at 22 Industrial Park Road, phone 814-849-0990.)

The Penn Highlands Healthcare Family Medicine Residency Clinic opened to ensure that families in our communities have access to the care they need. PHH earned approval from the American Osteopathic Association and is accredited through the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, providing training to resident physicians who are recent graduates of the Lake Eric College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM), which is the largest medical school in the nation.