In addition, Doering added that, although the practice of nurse practitioners prescribing drugs is legal in most states, he would "wonder what the person's background and training was."
This isn't the first time college health centers have come under fire for the standard of care they provide to students. In 1993, Northeastern University's Health Clinic was sued by the parents of a student after she died of leukemia. The student went for repeated visits to the campus health center and was told she had the flu. At trial, testimony showed that nurses, not doctors, were allowed to diagnose patients on the weekends. Northeastern was found not liable.
After Seung-Hui Cho went on a shooting rampage at Virginia Tech in 2007, killing 27 students and five faculty members, the college mental health center was criticized for failing to monitor or take action against Cho, who many had identified as being clearly disturbed.
In 2000, after multiple suicides at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the university was forced to restructure its mental health services.
It's these kinds of cases that make parents like John Edwards furious. "What level of care is given to our kids who go away to school," said Edwards. And, whether a student is 20 minutes away at a local college or 20 hours away, it can be almost impossible to get any information at all.
Courtney Knowles of the JED Foundation, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to reducing college suicides, said parents are often angry and confused at the lack of information afforded to them.
"When you turn 18, you are an adult. Students receive the same privacy and confidentiality rights that any adult receives," said Knowles.
But that can leave students, many of whom are on their own for the first time in their lives, in the hands of a health center that may or may not be providing the best care.
Chad Henderson, the director of health services for the University of Rhode Island, explained that college health centers vary greatly in terms of size and quality. A small junior college, for example, may only have a nurse practitioner on staff and a physician only available on an on-call basis. Other college health centers may be more akin to first class ambulatory care centers.
At URI, Henderson said, the health center sees 97 percent of patients the same day they call. Although it might take up to two weeks to see a psychiatrist, that time frame is faster than patients in the general population.
Henderson added that the scope of care these health centers are expected to provide has also increased over the years, particularly when it comes to mental health services.
"The whole college health community has changed…students have changed," said Henderson. And yet many college health centers face difficulties because the number of providers has not kept pace with demand. In particular, mental health services are often stretched because there "is a shortage of psychiatrists accepting new patients and there are many more students seeking those services" said Henderson.
In the meantime, Edwards is still seeking answers to what he calls the "mystery" of his son's death as he tries to face another holiday season without him.