A woman wearing a sport coat smiling in an exam room
Shannan Green, M.D., a VCU School of Medicine alum, has stepped into the role of medical director of University Student Health Services. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

New Student Health medical director discusses COVID, monkeypox and other current challenges

Shannan Green, M.D., medical director of University Student Health Services, says, “I want all students to feel welcome here and for no student to go without good health care.”

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Shannan Green, M.D., the new medical director of University Student Health Services at Virginia Commonwealth University, feels lucky to have been a part of the medical staff at Student Health for the last eight years before stepping into her current role.

“I have had a front row seat to the pandemic,” Green said. “As I start the new academic year as director of Student Health, I have the knowledge of what has been done over the last two-and-a-half years and will continue to expand on the care provided.”

Green, who is board-certified in family practice, graduated from VCU's School of Medicine and completed her residency at the VCU/Shenandoah Valley Family Practice Residency Program in Front Royal, Virginia. She joined the residency faculty at the practice for several years, later serving as their interim assistant residency director and working in private practice in the surrounding community before returning to VCU.

Green spoke with VCU News about what students can expect from health services as they start the new semester.

As the new student health director, what are you and your team doing to support students as they start the new semester?

My goal this year is to continue to teach our students to be responsible consumers of health care. Students are at a formative period when they must start to understand and manage their own health and wellness. I would like to collaborate with other departments within the Department of Student Affairs and the university on providing resources for health and wellness.

What are the current issues the college student population is facing this year?

One of the biggest issues I see facing the campus as we transition through the COVID-19 pandemic is addressing the mental health needs of our community in a way that is inclusive.

Since COVID is still around, how are you helping students with COVID as far as prevention and recovery? What advice are you giving them to keep them safe and healthy?

With COVID still circulating in our community, we continue to encourage our students to get their COVID vaccine and booster where appropriate in addition to masking and being mindful of people that they are around. Spending time with friends outside unmasked is appropriate but when community spread is high, consider masking when in a classroom/large-group setting where social distancing may not be possible. I recommend getting your free flu shot through VCU Student Health when available.

How are you addressing the issue of monkeypox and what steps are you taking regarding that disease?

The average student at VCU is low risk for monkeypox. I co-chair the Public Health Response Team and we have put a protocol in place for testing and contact tracing. As the semester proceeds, we will continue to work closely with the Richmond City Health Department to monitor cases in the Richmond area and to continually assess the risk for VCU students, faculty and staff. Most people don’t know that we are in constant contact with the RCHD about infectious disease risks for our VCU family.

What should students know about COVID and monkeypox going into the academic year?

Recognize that COVID has not gone away and to have the tools on hand to protect themselves and if they develop symptoms, to call Student Health for testing. When it comes to monkeypox, students should review the information provided by RCHD, the Virginia Department of Health, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and if they feel that they are at risk for exposure, to contact Student Health to discuss their concerns.

In the last three years, mental health has been at the forefront of discussions regarding COVID, monkeypox, the economy and national and international events. How are you helping students cope with any issues they are experiencing?

Support for mental health issues was on the forefront even before the pandemic, but since the pandemic, we have seen an increase in need for mental health services. We are lucky to have a staff of primary care physicians who are comfortable with treating most mental health concerns, but we also have two psychiatrists on our staff as well as a psychiatric nurse practitioner – this includes service for students that does not cost more to access. We are excited about the addition of TimelyCare, a virtual health and well-being platform, as a resource for students focusing on counseling. It also has health coaching.

How are you addressing the issue of polio since there have been outbreaks recently? Is that of concern to students?

We review the immunization status of all students enrolled at VCU. We work closely with the health department and look at the data on any infectious diseases that could affect our campus. We are lucky to have a Public Health Response Team, which has members from the university and the VCU Health system as well as the health department to monitor the health of our VCU family as it relates to any public health concern facing our campus.

What are your goals/plans for student health going forward?

My biggest goal at Student Health is to continue to have an inclusive environment that addresses the needs of our patients. In addition, continue to reach out to make sure we provide for the physical and mental health of our students. I want all students to feel welcome here and for no student to go without good health care. I have a passion for finding new and innovative ways to help our students achieve health and wellness.

What are you most excited about in your new role?

That we have more freedom to collaborate with other departments on campus to make sure that we are reaching the entire student population.

What do you think will be your biggest challenge?

My biggest challenge is finding the time to devote to new activities that are meaningful for students on our campus. We see anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 office visits per year, but I want to make sure the students know we provide excellent primary care to our patients and that we are able to provide that to all students who desire care here at VCU. I would like to collaborate with other departments within the Department of Student Affairs and the university on providing resources for health and wellness.