A Brown alumna returns to the fold.
Vanessa Britto, MD RES’89 F’91 MMSc’96 says she “backed into” college health. Early in her career, she divided her time between her private internal medicine practice and duties as a college physician at Stonehill College in Easton, MA. Then she accompanied a group of undergraduate students on a service mission in Peru, and her passion for working with students deepened. She subsequently became director of health services at Wellesley College, a position she held for 16 years.
Now she’s back on her old stomping ground. A graduate of Dartmouth and the University of Illinois College of Medicine, she completed the primary care internal medicine residency program, General Internal Medicine Fellowship, and a master’s at Brown, and she met her husband, neurologist Galen Henderson MD’93, here. “We got married on Commencement Weekend—25 years ago,” she says.
In January Britto returned to campus as assistant vice president of campus life and student services and executive director of health and wellness. She says her attraction to student health services aligns with her study of community health as a graduate student. “I got a taste of how to think about populations and population health and how to steward over a community; about the issues they grapple with, and social determinants of health,” she says. For college health, this means the factors that support or challenge students in meeting their goals of academic success, a prosperous life, and staying healthy.
That mission goes well beyond sick visits. “This is the time to talk to people about issues such as the importance of sleep and not pulling all-nighters,” Britto says. Stress reduction is also important, especially since the second decade is when many previously undiagnosed mental health issues emerge, exacerbated by stress.
“How can we help the student with a heavy work schedule and an emerging thyroid issue that keeps him up at night? And how can we teach that student to advocate for himself?” she says. University health and counseling services are not silos of care; they’re deeply integrated into the life of the school and play a fundamental role in shaping how effectively students are supported and engage in their academics. “It’s a unique type of medicine,” she says.
Against the stereotype that college health revolves around sore throats, mono, and contraceptives, Britto says she’s seen a greater variety of things than she would have in private practice, in part because of the diversity of college populations. One student presented with a rash, which turned out to be an African tick-borne disease; she had just returned from her home in Africa. “I have a saying,” Britto says: “‘This is not your grandmother’s health service.’”