As we have done for the last several years, NACCHO provided several full scholarships for local health department disease intervention specialists (DIS) to attend the STD Engage conference and build expertise in STD prevention and control within a broader sexual health approach. Held November 19-22, 2019, STD Engage 2019: Innovate. Impact. Empower brought together DIS, clinic and program staff, and directors, as well as stakeholders from across the country to learn about innovations in the field and discuss how to make headway against crisis levels of STIs.
In this multi-part blog series, our scholarship recipients highlight their conference experience in their own words. This second installment features Alonza Pamplin, disease intervention specialist at Wake County Human Services in North Carolina. Pamplin started her career at the Guilford County Health Department as a gonorrhea-focused DIS, went to work as a state DIS, and then relocated in January 2019 to take a role as a DIS for Wake County Human Services. Pamplin has always wanted to work in healthcare and, more specifically, work with HIV after learning of family members who were living with HIV and faced discrimination in the 1980s and 1990s. In her current position, she works as a DIS in the clinic and does provider in-services for Wake County. She hopes to educate more providers about the profession and do more work in her home community regarding sexual heath and stigma.
Finding Community, Celebrating Impact
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as a DIS is other health professionals believing that we don’t do anything important. This perception usually comes from people who have not sat down with a DIS, looked at a sexual network showing partners/clusters from an investigation, or even left their office ONCE to go the extra mile to get a patient treated. I think there needs to be more awareness and respect in the medical community for DIS. I’ve heard many DIS talk about the pay, lack of support/funding from their state/local government, as well as staffing issues and training being challenges as well. I think this conference being tailored to DIS is important because we can get the support and training we need so that we can take steps to advocate for ourselves and the profession.
This was my first conference where there were people like me, in the same position as me, and facing the same challenges as me. I felt very welcomed and enjoyed getting insight from others who have gone through similar technicalities or could offer a different insight. The conference was well planned and catered to a profession that is much needed but often overlooked and not recognized for its hard work. While at STD Engage, I felt like this was a self-care moment and learning experience all in one. The sessions were well thought out, the presenters were very knowledgeable and captured my attention, and all the staff were friendly and helpful throughout the process.
Something I learned at STD Engage was to provide my clients with more options. A lot of times we are stressed to get names, but clients don’t always have or feel comfortable divulging this information. At the end of the day we just want people to feel comfortable, safe, and know where they can go for resources. I have had success since leaving the conference with giving one of my client’s time to notify their partners and have the partners follow up with me. I have also looked more into websites that allow you to anonymously send an email/text to your partner about a possible exposure. I think this will help us in the future to get more partners in and build a relationship with the original client we are trying to elicit information from.