Being selected as one of the six DIS scholarship winners to attend the NCSD 2016 Annual Meeting in Phoenix, AZ was possibly the best thing to happen to my career in public health.
I’m not sure when this great realization occurred. After I got home from the NCSD meeting and went back to work, everything from the meeting really started to sink in. One day when I wasn’t expecting it, all of a sudden the light bulb came on and cleared everything up for me. I realized specifically that the NCSD Annual Meeting message was meant for me. Throughout the four days of the meeting I was lucky enough to attend amazing workshops that not only sharpened my skills as a DIS, but also expanded them. I was given fresh ideas, tools to use, and innovative strategies to implement at work and share with my coworkers. I had the opportunity to meet DIS from all over the country. This enabled me to gain some perspective on how different the role of a DIS really is. I listened to their stories, shared some of mine and learned about the projects in which they were involved. The mingling and networking aspect alone was quite inspiring and eventually inspired me to step up my game as a DIS, as a public health worker, as a public servant, as a person.
I can’t discuss every workshop and session that I went to, but I’d like to mention a few. The very first workshop I attended, titled “Collectively Addressing STIs in Indian Country ,” was very important to me. This workshop allowed us to split up into groups and come up with plans for the future of the Native American communities we work with, specifically within our own organization, and Native American communities in general. We also discussed as a whole, what’s been happening, sexual health-wise, in Indian country over the last 5-7 years as well as what a desirable future for Indian country looks like, regarding STIs. I thoroughly enjoyed this session for multiple reasons. The Oklahoma counties that I am assigned to have a large Native American population. I feel I can say that by living in Oklahoma, I am living in Indian country. I myself am Native American, Cherokee to be more specific, and have been somewhat involved in the Cherokee Nation and Cherokee culture since I was a teenager. I spend a lot of time working in my counties with large Native American populations and I’ve always been able to build good relationships and rapport with my clients and providers. Therefore this session felt more personal to me. During this session, I enjoyed being able to work with my group and hash out plans for the future of the Native American communities that I’m currently working with. These were plans that I could take home and put into action right away.
Something I took away from the “When PS and Technology Collide: Delivery of Online Intervention Services” workshop was that most of our clients are using technology for sex and that will not change, so we as DIS need to stay up to speed with these technologies to do our jobs effectively. This was important to me, because within my organization, we are behind the times when it comes to technology and the online world. I’ve recently found out that there’s not much that can be done to move my organization forward when it comes to technology, the internet, accessing sex seeking sites for record searching and partner notification. Some walls we can’t break through, but others we can if we keep chipping away. I’d like to think I found my wall. Like I said before, things can take a little while to sink in. All four days of the NCSD Annual Meeting, I was diligently taking notes and snapping photos of pertinent slides shown during every workshop and session that I attended. I tried to hang on to every word of every speaker, so I wouldn’t miss anything. I wanted to make sure I soaked up every bit of knowledge possible. It wasn’t until I got home and was reading through my notes, making an outline of what I’d learned to present at work, when I had that great realization. Most people might think that now isn’t the best time to be working for the State Government, specifically the State Health Department. After the presidential election, public health could be in crisis. Some would say this is the time to look elsewhere for work, try the private sector, switch professions, make more money. What I feel like I learned at the NCSD Annual Meeting is that right now is the optimal time for me to be where I am, but it’s time to take action. My hard to reach clients will need me more than ever now. I need to use the fresh ideas and tools I now have to find them and get them the testing, treatment and education they need.
The take home message from the NCSD Annual Meeting that impacted me the most, even if I didn’t realize it right away, was that this is the time for me to step up and become a public health ally, become the DIS that my clients need. I have two speakers from the NCSD meeting to thank for helping me realize all of this. It was a combined inspiration from both Mariotta Smith, who spoke at “Creating Actionable Allies in STD Programs” and Patrick Piper, who spoke at “Addressing the Mental Health Needs of YMSM”. Right now is the time when I need to be stepping up and fighting the social injustices that my clients are facing. I learned that society has created barriers that will prevent my clients from accessing sexual health care, deflect them from my visits, and deprive them of basic sex education. I learned that social injustices are responsible for sexual health disparities among so many of my clients. That is the wall I want to break through. Every person deserves the same education and sexual health care and if I can reach them, I plan on providing it to them.