The DIS Corner spotlights the work of DIS around the country. Meet the amazing people who are on the front lines of the STD epidemics in the US.
After working as a Disease Intervention Specialist (DIS) for two years, Mr. Strobel has continued serving as a “reserve” outbreak-response DIS for over three years while working as the Quality Improvement specialist for the STI/HIV Section in Kansas. In this capacity, he has been involved in the hiring and initial training of all new DIS, and consulted on the local development of DIS training curriculum. He participated in the National DIS Certification Project as a Subject Matter Expert, and currently serves on the DIS Advisory Committee for the National Coalition of STD Directors.
It’s really difficult for me to pick one thing – microbes are cool, the people that choose this field are awesome, and I love being able to talk about things at work that would be very inappropriate in other professional settings. But, my favorite thing about this line of work has to be getting to help people in a way that is proactive, and that it can really make a difference in peoples’ lives. The way that we view sex in the United States makes it difficult for people to ask questions and communicate openly about sexual health, leading to denial of risk, fear of disclosure, and an aversion to seeking help or medical care related to sex. This makes our uniquely proactive approach absolutely critical in preventing the transmission of these dangerous infections, because the people that we need to reach either can’t (or won’t) seek assistance on their own. No other field of public health works the same way that DIS do, and I take pride in that.
This one is easy: the biggest challenge in Disease Intervention is keeping it alive. The training infrastructure and knowledge base needed to maintain this specialized workforce dwindles more and more with each passing year – and it isn’t just about funding restrictions. The high stress level of DIS work leads to rapid turnover, which affects every level of responsibility: constant staff shortages lead to higher workloads and faster burnout in our front line DIS, and when these folks leave, there are fewer qualified and/or ideal candidates remaining for promotion into management and training positions. Fewer qualified “experts” and more new DIS requiring initial training leads inevitably to fewer opportunities and resources available for professional development, leading to even more turnover as good people seek other opportunities. There are very few reservoirs of knowledge related to this line of work, and there is no college degree program that produces anything close to a DIS “finished product”, meaning that we must be responsible for preserving and institutionalizing the expertise and knowledge that still remains in our programs – but the reality of working in government and non-profit agencies means that there is no time available to invest in sustainment.
As an extrovert, I enjoy socializing and being around people. One of my favorite ways to do this is playing board games (no, not like Monopoly or Sorry!). Board games have come a long way over the years (think about the difference between the Atari and a new PlayStation), and I love the ability to exercise my mind with just a splash of friendly competition. If you like being talked at, you should come find me at the next NCSD Annual Meeting!
The DIS Corner calls attention to the crucial role that DIS play in STD prevention, while highlighting their success stories and resources to overcome challenges in the field. Are you a DIS that wants to share a story or tool/resource that helps you in any aspect of your work? Email Leandra Lacy for it to be featured in the DIS Corner!