Just*in Time: Know Your Healthcare Worker

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Photo by Jessica Bolton

Hey, everyone, I hope all is well. Fall is here and the first holiday that comes to mind is Labor Day. Does anyone know what this holiday is about? And, no, it isn’t about pregnant women going into labor. Labor Day is more about the labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, laws, and well-being of the country. This month, I’d like to shine a spotlight on those who work with us to keep us healthy. I know there are a lot of us that absolutely hate having to deal with doctors or any public health professional, but maybe knowing more about what public health professionals do and why they can be an important part of our HIV journey might take the sting out.

Case Manager
Many of us who are newly diagnosed are assigned a case manager to help with accessing medication and other resources. One of the biggest complaints that patients have with their case managers is that they are unresponsive to needs. I’m not giving excuses but I’m going to give another perspective. Case managers who work in the HIV community often have too much of a caseload, especially if they are in an urban setting. They see people day in and day out, all day long. The case managers will not know you by name sometimes and often will not remember you. A solution is to get to know your case manager as they will be a lifeline to you. They might already know but let them know your vulnerabilities and talk to them on a regular basis so that they have a more interpersonal relationship with you.

Internal Medicine/Primary Care Doctor
One of the first things I did was seek out a doctor for myself. Since being diagnosed with HIV in 2006 I’ve seen four doctors. I finally found one who is an excellent physician. Dr. A. in NW D.C. is amazing. Before Dr. A., I had three other doctors who I felt treated me like a number. There was no personality when it came to the visits and it was often hard to get in contact with them when I had a question. When I finally switched to Dr. Ang, I felt like he actually cared about me as a person and not just because I had HIV. He has a great system in place. I see him every three months and, on every visit, I have a blood and urine test. I like thorough doctors and I like that he knows me and my family. If you are going to a doctor and you feel like just a number, it’s time to get a new doctor.

Dentist
Dentists work too hard to protect the general community by instilling knowledge in us about how to follow a good oral hygiene regimen. Many people hate going to the dentist and often complain about how they are frightened to go. But we have to go because we need to prevent gingivitis, halitosis, and other infections and conditions of the mouth. Lots of people complain that dentists who are not in private practice do not have the experience or knowledge to do good work. Honestly, please keep in mind, they are working with what they have. Many dentists make a salary as low as 30K a year. They also work on patients who have neglected their oral hygiene for years and sometimes only because they are on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. A lack of dental insurance coverage is a travesty in this country and that is also another reason why people cannot get to a dentist right away or at all. But do not blame the dentist; blame the system.

Pharmacist
Now the main concern that I hear from people is that they are not getting their prescriptions filled on time. I’ve seen people call their pharmacist and curse them out because they have not received their medications when expected. There are many reasons to consider when expecting your pharmacist to have your medications ready or mailed to you in a timely manner. Call your doctor first to check to see if they have sent in your prescription to your pharmacist. Understand the pharmacist cannot do anything until your doctor sends in the prescription. Another word of advice is to order the prescription early; in case something goes wrong you’ll have enough time to alleviate the problem and still stay compliant with your medication. They have a lot of patients that they work hard for and with, so don’t think you’re the only one on their list.

I chose to focus on these four public health professionals because I have the most experience with them. I have gone to see all four types of professionals named above when I was uninsured, underinsured, and fully insured. I’ve felt agitated and frustrated with all four, but now I understand what they go through day in and day out. But of course, living with HIV is not easy either. We all have to work together and fight the good fight.


Justin B. Terry-Smith, MPH, DrPH, has been fighting the good fight since 1999. He’s garnered recognition and awards for his work, but he’s more concerned about looking for new ways to transform society for the better than resting on his laurels. He started up in gay rights and HIV activism in 2005, published an HIV-themed children’s book, I Have A Secret (Creative House Press) in 2011, and created his own award-winning video blog called, “Justin’s HIV Journal”: justinshivjournal.blogspot.com. Visit his main Web site at www.justinbsmith.com. He welcomes your questions at [email protected].