Family Health

Back-to-School Physicals: When and Why They're Needed

Published: Aug. 1, 2022

To perform well, children need to feel well. That’s why scheduling a back-to-school physical is important.

Requirements and Recommendations

While most providers recommend physical exams for healthy children every two years, students entering kindergarten and seventh grade in Nebraska are required to have them. These visits also include vaccines.

Prior to kindergarten, the following vaccines are given/updated:

  • Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR)
  • Diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTaP)
  • Polio (IPV)
  • Varicella (chicken pox)

Prior to seventh grade, the following vaccines are given:

  • Human papilloma virus (HPV)
  • Meningococcal conjugate
  • Tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis (Tdap) booster

Additionally, COVID-19 vaccines are available and recommended for all children who are old enough for school

While Iowa does not require back-to-school physicals, the state’s vaccine requirements are largely the same as Nebraska’s. And both states require sports physicals for high school athletes.

Sports Physicals

There’s a reason physicals are required before students hit the field, pool or court. These exams are an important part of keeping children healthy because they screen for:

  • Family health conditions
  • Heart conditions
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Joint and bone conditions

Sports physicals also serve as a time for important discussions regarding concussions and female athlete concerns, such as menstrual changes.

While many schools offer sports physical clinics, I recommend that parents of student athletes schedule these physicals with primary care providers. This ensures that records are updated, and it’s a great way to establish and build relationships between adolescents and providers.

Even though most sports don’t begin until the fall, it’s a good idea to schedule these physicals well in advance of school starting to help guarantee you get an appointment that’s most convenient for you and your young athlete.

Preparing For a Physical


Parents can help prepare their children by discussing the need for vaccinations prior to the exams for kindergarten and seventh grade. Every child is different. Some do best having about a week to prepare, while others do better and stress less with a discussion the morning of the appointment.


Check with your child’s school to see if there any forms that need to be filled out by your child’s health care provider. If so, print those and bring them with you to the appointment. If you are seeing a new provider, be sure to bring copies of past immunizations so vaccines can be updated if necessary.

Be sure and notify your child’s provider if any of the following have changed:

  • Family medical history
  • Insurance
  • Child’s medication list

As your child’s physical approaches, write down any questions or concerns you may have about their health and development. Use that time with your child’s provider to have some of those discussions so you and your child can both start the school year off with the knowledge and peace of mind you need.

More Resources

About the Author

Dr. Katrena Lacey is a physician specializing in internal medicine and pediatrics. Her mission is to help people live happy and healthy lives.

Dr. Lacey sees patients of all ages at Methodist Physicians Clinic in Gretna.

See more articles from Katrena Lacey, MD
Photo of Katrena Lacey, MD