A blog featuring Rachel Hutton, a DIS from the Hillsborough County Health Department. Rachel was one of the DIS Engage scholarship winners from STD Engage 2020.
I enjoyed connecting with other DIS from around the country and relating on similar experiences from within the STI world. Although it may seem like you are alone in your experiences, both positive and negative, with patients and navigating through the difficult emotions that can come from working within this field, it is wonderful to know your experiences are shared and there are people that can relate to the things you have been through. For individuals who do not know what DIS truly do, it can be hard for them to empathize with the work we do, which makes it wonderful to meet people who can relate to you. Speaking with people who have a passion for STIs in a public health realm and learning from people with the same passion was a breath of fresh air. Finding individuals who have the same passion as you is a truly energizing experience, and it lit a new fire in me for my passion in STI work.
One thing that has been an issue in public health for decades have been health disparities amongst Black and Hispanic/Latinx communities. STI work is no different. Learning about racial inequities and the effects that it causes on STI infection rates, adequate treatment ratios, and the problems that are faced within the Black and Hispanic/Latinx communities, really is an eye-opening experience. As someone who works for a health department in an underserved community, I witness the clientele who need these services the most, however, it is not always the case. With the knowledge and resources presented at STD Engage, I hope to try and work with my team to offer more services within the community and more availability for those who need more access to testing and treatment. I plan to provide my clients, and also provide training to my colleagues, on the resources offered within the community, such as housing resources, primary care providers, and other assistance programs.
I believe that the biggest challenge currently faced by DIS is doing STI work during this pandemic.
As the United States and the entire world are still suffering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe that the biggest challenge currently faced by DIS is doing STI work during this pandemic. A large portion of our work consists of field work which has been mitigated in some areas due to the pandemic. As many DIS know, it can be challenging to reach patients through telephone calls and doing field visits to client’s houses tends to be the most effective way to locate clients to inform of positive results, need for treatment, or to conduct interviews. Also, a lot of our clients have transportation issues and not being able to assist clients with transportation to receive treatment or to attend appointments due to the pandemic has been another challenging issue. When we do have direct contact with the clients, there are areas that require 15 minutes or less with a client to reduce COVID-19 exposure, which can be difficult to gain a rapport with a client and have them trust you enough with sensitive sexual history and partner information. I believe that COVID-19 has caused a lot of challenges within the STI field, especially with DIS work, and that it will continue to cause challenges for the coming months, potentially even years.
Rachel Hutton is currently a DIS in Hillsborough County located in Tampa, FL. Rachel has worked as a DIS for three years. Previously, she earned a bachelor’s degree in public health with a minor in infection control from the University of South Florida and is currently working on a Master of Public Health with a dual concentration in epidemiology and global communicable diseases also from the University of South Florida. In her free time, Rachel enjoys spending time with family and friends, tending to her plants, going to the beach, and watching TV.