Understanding the U.S. Healthcare System

What you need to know.

Healthcare is expensive in the U.S.

Due to the very high cost of health care; insurance is required for all international students, J-1 scholars, and family members in J-2 status.

Insurance is not required for family members in F-2 status, however, we highly recommend that all family members have insurance coverage.

Always carry your insurance card with you.

If you go to a hospital or see a doctor, you will need to show your insurance card when you arrive.

  • If you are a W&M full-time student, you are eligible to receive care at the Student Health Center.
  • Ask if the doctor is covered by your insurance
  • Ask for the cost of the treatment and prescriptions (e.g., medication) and if it is covered by your insurance.
The words “Doctor” and “Physician” mean the same thing.

“Primary Care Physician” is a doctor you would visit if you were feeling ill or needed a routine check-up.

Need to see a specialist?

To see a specialist (e.g., allergist), you usually need a referral from the Student Health Center (if you are a student) or your Primary Care Physician. The insurance company might not cover the cost if you did not receive a referral.

Need medication?

Students can purchase medication at the Student Health Center. You can also go to a pharmacy or drugstore (e.g., CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid).

Where to go for medical care
Student Health Center
  • Students should use the Student Health Center unless a) it is a true emergency and b) the Student Health Center is closed, or you are more than 16km from the university. In these cases, you do not need to use the Student Health Center first or get a referral from the Student Health Center.
Hospitals (Emergencies)
  • Only for serious emergencies such as severe bleeding, head injury, loss of consciousness, etc.
  • Call 911 for ambulance transport, if necessary
  • Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center  -  100 Sentara Cir., Williamsburg, 757-984-6000
  • Riverside Doctors’ Hospital Williamsburg - 1500 Commonwealth Ave., Williamsburg, 757-585-2200 
  • Riverside Walter Reed Hospital - 7519 Hospital Drive, Gloucester, VA, 23061 804-693-8899
Urgent Care Clinics (Non-emergencies)

Students: If the Student Health Center is closed, we recommend that you go to a local clinic if it is not a medical emergency.
Scholars and families: If you need medical care, and you cannot or are unwilling to wait for an appointment at your doctor’s office, but you are not sick enough to visit the hospital, then you should seek care at an Urgent Care Clinic.

Non-Emergency Transportation Options