A blog featuring Crystal Keeling from the Oklahoma State Department of Health. Crystal was one of the DIS Engage scholarship winners from STD Engage 2019.
Prior to arriving at STD Engage I was tired, stressed out, and ready to find a new career. With all of the demands to meet frequently changing policies, grant requirements, and the overall bureaucracy, I had begun to feel more like a data collector and less like a Disease Intervention Specialist. After arriving at STD Engage, I was pleasantly surprised to hear many of the presenters speak positively about the work the DIS are doing. I began to feel appreciated. I was reinvigorated with a renewed passion for the work I do. What I enjoyed most about STD Engage was hearing from researchers and policymakers about how the work the DIS do is beneficial to so many people in addition to the clients we are directly working with. Being given the opportunity to network and socialize with DIS from other states and countries was icing on the cake. Learning about vastly different approaches DIS from various programs are taking to reach the same goals was truly a refreshing and enlightening experience I wouldn’t have gained otherwise.
During the pre-conference workshop “BHOC: Working with MSM Dating Apps,” Frank Strona with CDC’s National Internet Partner Services gave detailed information about online dating apps, discussed online resources that are beneficial to our clients, and explained USTASP-Using Technology to Advance STD/HIV Prevention. I plan to incorporate the available technology, within my programs approved policies, to assist me with improving my investigation outcomes. I will also use the information he gave to glean a better understanding of the intricacies within online dating apps.
DIS face many external challenges that are not directly related to our job function, from cumbersome bureaucracy, high turnover, and stagnant wages to lack of credentialing or standardization in a high stress thankless profession. With that said, I believe the biggest challenge DIS face is the high turnover in this field. It takes months to adequately train a DIS to have a solid understanding of the diseases they are working and how to investigate them. The high turnover directly impacts the morale of the remaining DIS because they are reassigned partially done and outdated investigations, they are working overwhelming workloads, and they have unattainable timelines. Learning from seasoned DIS helps all of us hone our investigative skills and interviewing techniques. Few people know or understand what a DIS is or what exactly it is that we do. There are many misconceptions amongst the public, providers, and even our colleagues. The supervisor that trained me had 20 plus years of experience as a DIS. He had a wealth of knowledge that has proved priceless to those of us he trained, yet there is no appreciation for his vast experience or his value to our organization. Giving us an abundance of resources cannot improve outcomes without a skilled workforce putting them to appropriate use. Ideally there will be a way to keep the proficient DIS from needing to find new careers.
Crystal Keeling has been a Disease Intervention Specialist II for seven years. She started her career as a DIS in October 2012 and has been with the Oklahoma State Department of Health ever since. Before starting her career as a DIS, she obtained a Bachelor of Science with an organismic emphasis from Northeastern State University in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. She ventured into the DIS program with a burning passion to help others achieve improved sexual health. Outside of work, she is a loving mother of 3 adult children, Omi to 1 granddaughter, and wife of 22 years to her best friend. Her greatest achievement is having a strong family that sticks together no matter what, because family is the most important thing to her.