Bwog is here to help you navigate healthcare at Columbia and Barnard.
Columbia Health is, for lack of a better way to put it, a total bitch to deal with. At some point, you’ll make the journey to their on-campus offices in John Jay for one reason or another (or, if you’re a Barnard student, you’ll go to Barnard Primary Health Care services.)
I’ve had to spend a lot of time in those offices battling it out with CU Health—I came here with chronic health issues and knew that I’d be spending plenty of time seeing Columbia Health. Here’s some of the tips for navigating their incredibly bureaucratic system that I’ve picked up in the hopes that it will help you avoid some of the headaches I’ve had.
While many of these are written specifically with Columbia Health in mind as that’s what I’ve dealt with, many of the same challenges and tips are also true for Barnard Health, and many of the same services are also available.
Columbia Health offers a broad range of services. To view the entire list, click here. To help you figure out who you want to talk to, here’s a brief description of a few of the commonly used services.
Primary Care: the offices in John Jay offer Primary Care services. If you are sick, injured, have a concern you need to see a doctor about, or need a referral to a specialist, this is likely who you’ll see first. If you are a Barnard student, you will go to Barnard Primary Health Care Services (PCHS).
Columbia Psychological Services (CPS): Columbia’s counseling services. While it’s great that CPS exists, be aware that there is often a long wait (sometimes multiple months) to be seen by CPS, and they will generally only see you consistently for one semester before referring you to an external provider in the city. If you would like to find a provider in the city but don’t know how to go about finding one, scroll down to the tips section of this article.
Furman Counseling Center: Essentially CPS for Barnard students. Furman has the same one-semester limit as CPS, and similarly long wait times.
Sexual Health: Columbia offers a variety of sexual health services. You can get an IUD or Nexplanon implant placed by providers at John Jay, or by PCHS for Barnard students. You can get STI testing at the Columbia Health offices in John Jay, and you can get PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) and PEP (Post-exposure prophylaxis).
Columbia University Emergency Medical Services (CUEMS): If you are in the area of Columbia’s campus and you need an ambulance, Columbia has a free ambulance service staffed by student volunteers. If you need the ambulance, call 212-854-5555. Be aware that if the ambulance is already out helping someone else, a non-Columbia ambulance will be sent, which is not free of charge.
Office of Disability Services (ODS): While not specifically a part of Columbia Health, ODS can be an incredibly useful resource. The equivalent for Barnard students is called CARDS. ODS and CARDS can help you get accommodations in a broad range of areas of University life, including housing and classes, for a variety of documented medical reasons. The application process can be a real pain as you jump through their hoops, and they can be bureaucratic, but ODS is also very useful. Barnard students–pretty much the same deal, but you’ll register through Barnard.
Scheduling an Appointment
To schedule an appointment, you can go to secure.health.columbia.edu, and login to the portal. At the home page on the portal, there’s a big blue button that says “Schedule an appointment.” If that’s not working, go to the appointments tab on the left, and the button should pop up. If you’re having trouble, or you don’t want to go through the online portal, you can call (212) 854-7426. This process is the same for scheduling a visit with CPS, but the phone number will be (212) 854-2878.
1. Demand what you need. I, and many people I know, have had plenty of experiences of Columbia health trying to tell us that something isn’t as bad as we’re making it out to be. I’ve had to insist upon getting a referral to a specialist after a Columbia provider tried to convince me that I was “overblowing” a very real and somewhat serious problem. I know multiple people who have gone to CU health in need of treatment and were ignored until they demanded care. One person I know couldn’t get an appointment despite a pressing medical issue, so they simply showed up to the clinic and refused to leave until receiving the necessary treatment.
2. Remember that you know your own body, and demand what you need. I, and many people I know, have had experiences where providers have tried to gaslight us into thinking that something wasn’t as severe as we were making it out to be. For reference of what this can feel like—I’ve pretty much grown up in hospitals due to chronic health issues, and I had never had a doctor make me cry until a notable gaslighting experience at Columbia Health.
3. If you find a provider you like, but they’re not showing up as available for appointments in the health portal, you can usually directly contact the provider either by messaging them through the portal or by sending them an email to ask what their availability is.
5. CPS and Furman are known for their long wait times, and even once you get an appointment, you can only see them for a semester before they refer you to a provider in the city. If you’re trying to find a provider in the city, whether to bypass the wait or because you’ve been referred out, Psychology Today is an incredibly useful tool–you can narrow down location, and add filters such as providers covered by your insurance and what you’d like to cover with your provider.
6. If you have a prescription that you need to get filled, the Hartley Chemist on Amsterdam and 120th and the Duane Reade on 111th are two of the options closest to campus.
7. If you need to be referred to a specialist, Presbyterian Hospital has an array of excellent specialists, is right off the 1 train, and is covered by Columbia’s insurance plan. If you have an external insurance plan and you want to check what is covered, you can usually find out by either calling your insurance company, or by checking their website to see if they have a tool to find out which providers are in-network.
8. If you have a pressing medical issue after hours, you can call and speak with the Clinician on Call. To be clear: this is not a substitute for going to the emergency room. However, if you’re not sure whether you need to be seen right then, or whether you might be able to wait until the next morning (or Monday morning, if it’s a weekend), talking with the Clinician on Call can be helpful. I once did this–I was thinking of delaying seeking care, but after speaking with the clinician on call, I was advised to go to the ER, which I did.
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