History of Student Health Services

In 1893, Michigan Agricultural College was one of the first in the nation to establish on-campus health services, making a nurse available weekdays for minimal care and bringing in a doctor once or twice a week to make diagnoses and prescribe treatments. The next year a seven-room hospital was built where the MSU Union now stands. The two-bed hospital provided an office and treatment areas for the consulting physician plus residential quarters for a nurse so someone could be on call after hours.  In that era of limited therapies, often the best medicine was simply to separate the sick from the healthy to reduce contagion. In 1909, four isolation cottages were built near the hospital.

Olin Health Center 1940, Courtesy of MSU Archives

Olin Health Center
Courtesy of MSU Archives

 In 1923, as the college was on its way to becoming Michigan State College, construction on a new MSU Union had begun. The old hospital was in the way, so a new facility was established in a mansard-roofed house built in 1874 and formerly used as the home of the college president. It contained an outpatient clinic and 40 in-patient sick beds.

In 1925 Richard M. Olin, MD joined MSC as the first full-time college physician and health service director. He had distinguished himself the previous 12 years as the first commissioner of health for the state of Michigan and the initiator of aggressive public health programs to control infectious diseases.

Dr. Olin addressed the inadequacies of the MSC facilities by helping to design a true hospital building, complete with operating rooms capable of handling major surgery. The hospital was under construction in 1938, but Olin died unexpectedly on October 6. The health center opened a year later in fall 1939 and was named in Dr. Olin's memory. With 60 beds on the top two floors to complement the first-floor outpatient clinic, a modern laboratory, extensive diagnostic equipment, physical therapy facilities, and a pharmacy, the new facility was a true hospital.

Following World War II, the student population surged, and, in 1955, Michigan State College became Michigan State University. Two years later, the first Olin Health Center expansion was completed, followed by another one in 1968. The additions boosted the capacity to 130 beds and provided space for expanded services. In 1972, a distinguished patient recuperated in the hospital, MSU President Clifton R. Wharton, Jr. who had suffered an injury to his Achilles' tendon.

Later in the 1970s, national health care trends including medical advances, and modifications in care philosophies shortened hospital stays and converted many treatments into outpatient procedures. The hospital portion of the center was reduced in size mid-decade and phased out entirely in 1981. Since then Olin Health Center has focused entirely on outpatient ambulatory care.

In the 1980s the reorganization and redirection included renovations for additional examination and waiting rooms and offices. New board-certified physicians were recruited. Ancillary programs were expanded and an emphasis on health education was added. Gynecology, sports medicine, and health education have subsequently been given increased emphasis. The priorities expanded to not only heal the sick but to explain behaviors that students could adopt to help keep them well both in the near and extended future. The focus shifted to wellness as well as illness, and, above all, on the needs of the students. The focus on quality and meeting the needs of the students were rewarded in 1988 with Accreditation by the Joint Commission.  Student Health Services has undergone surprise inspections by the Joint Commission every three years since then and has been continuously Accredited.

Starting in the 1990s Student Health Services has grown and adjusted to best meet the needs of students, with particular attention on greater collaboration with other MSU departments.  From Recreational Sports and Fitness to Residence Life and RHA, to the Office of International Students and Scholars to the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities and the LBGT Resource Center, the goal across campus is to keep students academically healthy and to do that, meet their many wellness and environmental needs.

In the year 2000, Michigan State University Student Health Services began participation in the National College Health Assessment (NCHA) survey through membership in the American College Health Association (ACHA). The NCHA w has been repeated every two years since then - in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016 and the most recent survey was conducted in 2018. 

The data collected from the NCHA survey assists MSU faculty & staff, students, and parents to better understand health trends, identify emerging problems, report behavioral norms, identify risk factors to safety and academic performance, prioritize student health care issues, allocate resources for programming, design new programs, and evaluate current strategies.

The data is also used for our Social Norms campaign on campus, which is commonly referred to as “The Duck Campaign.” The campaign is designed to promote a better understanding of the true norms surrounding alcohol use by the MSU student population and challenges the prevailing myths and misperceptions which often lead to higher risk consumption.

Beginning in 2010 Olin began expansion into the Residence Halls, opening clinics in four different on-campus "neighborhoods". The East Neighborhood Engagement Center was the first to open. The Engagement Centers are unique spaces located in each neighborhood and serve as the main access point to important resources such as tutors, academic advisors, health practitioners, and other consultants to help students navigate through their college years. Student Health Services is a part of each neighborhood with a clinical presence in Hubbard, Holden, Brody and McDonel halls. The Olin Health Center serves as the clinical presence for the North Neighborhood.

Reorganization in 2017 led to the creation of MSU Student Health & Wellness. The five departments within this unit are Counseling & Psychiatric Services (CAPS), Health Services, Health Promotion, Center for Survivors and MSU Safe Place under the Executive Director.  The Olin Health Center building houses CAPS, Primary Care and support services, and a portion of Health Promotion services as well as the Office of the University Physician.