Print this page    •   Back to Web version of article

New to Working in the HIV/AIDS Field? Welcomes and Tips From Fellow Advocates

November 28, 2012

New to Working in the HIV/AIDS Field? Welcomes and Tips From Fellow Advocates

For some advocates in our community, working in HIV/AIDS is a matter of their own survival. Others come to the community through avenues they never could have imagined. Still others could not see themselves working anywhere else once they'd delved into the complexities of this work. We asked people working in different areas of the HIV/AIDS field, and all across the U.S.: What would you say to someone who has just begun working in the HIV/AIDS community?

get started
Matt Ignacio

Matt Ignacio

Tohono O'odham Nation, Southern Arizona; National Native American AIDS Prevention Center, Denver

I haven't been doing this work through the entire epidemic, but for a third of the time, and I would say that, really, this work can be frustrating. It can be exhausting. It can be draining. Just have patience to go through those motions, because there's a lot to learn. And, if there's a "silver lining," for lack of a better phrase, of HIV in general, it's that it's ever-evolving. Every three years, there's brand-new stuff to learn about and it keeps the work exciting.

Michelle Lopez

Michelle Lopez

Brooklyn; Diagnosed in 1991

Put aside all of your biases, and realize you're going to be working with people, and when we're working with people, we're going to be meeting different personalities. We're going to be hearing different stories of "How did HIV get to this person?" Be nonjudgmental.

Jose Luis Guzman

Jose Luis Guzman

San Francisco; San Francisco AIDS Foundation

Be passionate and be prepared to have some armor. There's a lot of changes coming down the pike, and you have to be able to flow with the punches.

Laurindo Garcia

Laurindo Garcia

b-change.org, Philippines and Singapore

The first question I would ask them is: What are your intentions? And whatever those intentions, just be sincere about them. I mean, if your intention is to help the community, then make it clear that that's why you're doing it, as long as you're being sincere about it.

If it is to get a job, then live up to that. Make it clear. I mean, you need a livelihood. There's nothing wrong with needing a livelihood. If you can marry that together with community advocacy, then even better for you.

If it's for fame . . . then, OK. But be clear.

But whatever it is, be sincere; be transparent about it.

My second question is then just to make them aware of the time frame that's required, that they should be prepared for. We're not going to see the change that we want to see overnight. If we're really believers in community advocacy and mobilization, these things take time. So you've got to have patience and a willingness to kind of have a long-term view. But at the same time, as I've heard many other advocates say, you've got to be prepared to move mountains, too. Because it's that passion that's going to help you get through the dark times.

Those are the big things that I would ask them to think about as they took the leap. But finally, I would give them a big hug and say, "Thank you for joining us, because we really need more people."

Jermaine Wright

Jermaine Wright

Mpowerment Program, Colorado; Diagnosed in 2009

Do not burn yourself out. In this field many of us desire to be there and make everything all right for everyone. This field can be both very rewarding and tiresome at the same time. This was something I had to learn the hard way. Although we may feel rewarded by the help we are extending to others, we must remember to take time to keep our minds right and to make sure we are equipped to deal with the daily stresses of this field. If we aren't keeping ourselves mentally and physically ready, how can we be a help to anyone else?

Nelson Vergel

Nelson Vergel

Program for Wellness Restoration, Houston; Diagnosed in 1986

Follow your heart and remember every day why you are doing this work. This can be a thankless field. It is usually underpaid and a lot of people depend on you. Develop strong relationships with people who have been in the field a lot longer than you who can mentor you. At the end of the day, the feeling of helping others and even saving lives usually compensates for the stress, low pay, and lack of cooperation in our field. And remember to build your skills for other fields, in case you are unfortunate enough to lose your job as a result of funding cuts. I am sorry to sound so jaded!

Reggie Smith

Reggie Smith

Atlanta; Diagnosed in 1984

Remember, you are responsible for the effort, not the outcome. We pray for a positive outcome, and we measure the success of the efforts so we can tailor them to best serve the greater good, but you will burn out fast if you are so attached to how your efforts change the lives of those you serve that you play God instead of servant. Know what your motive is for working in the HIV field and try to practice a level of humility.

Tyrone Lopez

Tyrone Lopez

STD/HIV Prevention and Outreach for the Tohono O'odham Nation, Tucson, Ariz.; Diagnosed in 2003

I'd probably say to have fun with it. Try to come up with new ideas, even though some of the old ones still work. It's kinda hard getting the message out, especially when people have an attention span of less than 10 minutes, and they're saying jokingly, "OK, I've heard this, come on." Also, understand that all people aren't at the same education level, so make it really simple for a lot of people.

Jason Panda

Jason Panda

b condoms, New York City

Be ambitious. I think a lot of what's happening is the field is really dynamic; it's changing really, really rapidly. There's a lot of good work that can be done. And I think that anybody who's entering the field is most likely doing it from their heart. So, I just say, be adaptable, because the impact of HIV on the community is probably going to be different than what it'll be in five years, in 10 years, in 20 years. Be open to change while realizing that it may not happen overnight.

Melanie Dulfo, M.S.W.

Melanie Dulfo, M.S.W.

APICHA Community Health Center, New York City

I would tell them not to be afraid, to be courageous. We may compare cancer in many ways to HIV; but cancer does not have the kind of stigma that's associated with HIV.

I think that HIV is insidiously changing. It's not just a gay white man's disease; now it is a disease that mostly impacts communities of color, low-income communities, communities that may not be prioritized. Now it impacts places where there are, like, third world missions or peripheral economies that may not have the resources or capacity to be able to deal with HIV.

Another disturbing thing about the HIV field: I think it takes a lot of courage because you will witness a lot of very discouraging events, like people becoming positive even though you've done prevention education work with them; people dying when you're a doctor and you're caring for them, and you're trying to make them adhere to treatment. When you're an outreach worker, people yelling at you.

To enter HIV prevention work, it takes a lot of courage, I think, because there is so much pressure and a lot of the stigma around the community. For anyone who's entering HIV work, it is one of the most fulfilling types of work that you'll be able to do, but you must take heart: Don't be afraid.

Walker Tisdale

Walker Tisdale

Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness, Atlanta

I would say, "Welcome. You are needed, your expertise and talent is desired, and we need new warriors in the fight against HIV." Short and to the point. I really think that, if you are new to this field, find a mentor, someone who has been in this field a little longer. Latch onto them, soak up all their knowledge, and bring your own.

Savannah Hornback

Savannah Hornback

NYSDOH Prevention Planning Group and Community Healthcare Network, New York City

I would say to someone who is just starting work in the HIV/AIDS field, "Buckle down. It's a journey. It's not an easy journey. But, we need you. We need you in the fight. And, education, education, education. Stay up to date on all the new prevention models, and all the new information that is coming out."

Hana Hawthorne, M.S.W.

Hana Hawthorne, M.S.W.

Aniz Inc., Atlanta

Working in the HIV field can be trying on the mind, body and soul. Being new to this field I have to constantly remind myself to be empathic and not sympathetic when speaking to my clients. Participating in training after training to learn more about the myths/misconceptions, all the medications, and latest statistics about new infections and growing populations after awhile can become overwhelming. To many this can lead to the straight-and-narrow path to job burnout. However, I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by great employees and I learned quickly when to step back and rely on them in areas I fall short in. My recommendation would be to open yourself to new opportunities. In this field you will meet some great people and some will warm your heart. Remember it is the littlest things that will remind you why you entered into this field in the first place.

Sherrie Burch

Sherrie Burch

Community Counseling Center of Southern Nevada, Las Vegas

There have been a lot of changes -- get educated about it. Unfortunately, I think what's happening is people really don't know what HIV is. We're in a generation where many people have never seen someone get sick and die of advanced HIV. And, so, it's in the back of their mind and it needs to be brought forward again, to help educate, and to be able to know it yourself and get a lot of education so you can educate your clients. And know that there are gonna be some ups and downs.




This article was provided by TheBody.com. You can find this article online by typing this address into your Web browser:
http://www.thebody.com/content/69859/new-to-working-in-the-hivaids-field-welcomes-and-t.html

General Disclaimer: TheBody.com is designed for educational purposes only and is not engaged in rendering medical advice or professional services. The information provided through TheBody.com should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, consult your health care provider.