A Child's Guide: What to Expect at a School or Sports Physical

By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., ACCESS Media Relations Specialist
May 9, 2017

A note to parents and caregivers: 

When it is time for your child to have his or her school physical, as required by the State of Illinois, or a sports physical, which is required by public schools, you want to prepare your child for the exam and make sure they are comfortable going to the doctor beginning at an early age. You may find this child's guide to what to expect at the physical exam to be helpful. If your child is a good reader, encourage them to read this themselves. Or, you can share this child-friendly information with them.

If you're a child enrolled in the public school system, you may need a doctor when you reach certain grades. It's best that you get a check-up every year to stay healthy and well.

The visit, called a physical, is usually short. Most of the time, the doctors, nurses, or medical assistants, and others will ask you questions and measure you – they will check your height, your weight, your blood pressure and other parts of your body. 

Here's how a physical works:

  • Entering the Health Center: A member of your care team will greet you and check you in. Then, they will lead you to the exam room – a private room that is all ready for your exam.
  • Measurements: The provider uses a scale to measure your height and weight. The provider may also check your blood pressure. They use a small, soft cuff on the arm that puffs up with air. They also will take your temperature with a thermometer.
  • Questions: You will meet several people, such as the doctor, a nurse, or medical assistant. They are all there to help you stay healthy. They will ask you a lot of questions. If you are wondering about something during the exam, you want to make sure to ask your care team.
  • Examination: The provider looks inside your ears and nose with a little light.  They also will ask you to open your mouth, and say, "Ah…." They'll use a tongue depressor, which looks like a big Popsicle stick, to gently press your tongue down while they look at your throat. They may ask you to move around for them, and they may tap your knee with a tiny hammer to check your reflexes. There may be a urine sample or blood test, but this depends on your age and other conditions.
  • Stethoscope: Just like you may have seen on TV or in a movie, doctors and other medical professionals use a stethoscope, which they usually have around their neck. They use that tool to listen to your heart and lungs. The provider places the end of the stethoscope on your chest and on your back and may ask you to take deep breaths. ​
  • Immunization: At certain times during your life, you will need to get immunizations. An immunization is what prevents you and others from getting sick from contagious diseases. Usually the immunizations are actually what people call "shots," but they don't hurt too much. They are very quick and may sting or pinch – but only for a moment. These are required by the schools and they keep everyone safe. 
  • Paperwork: You and your family will receive a form that tells the school that you've had your physical exam.

The most important thing to remember about a physical is that the whole point is to keep you healthy and safe.