School of Medicine

Wayne State University School of Medicine

Second-year students become state-certified HIV test counselors

State epidemiologists estimate that there are more than 7,000 people living with HIV in Detroit. Many are unaware of their status. To increase that awareness, the Wayne State University School of Medicine is exploring options to provide more students with the opportunity to become certified to test and counsel for HIV.

After more than 30 hours of intensive training, a group of WSU medical students have been certified by the state of Michigan to counsel and test patients for HIV.

The state certification process involves a combination of online and in-classroom learning conducted by specialists from the Michigan Department of Community Health. To fulfill state requirements, students devoted two weekends to a series of training modules in which they learned to counsel patients to assess risk for HIV, conduct HIV antibody tests, deliver results and refer positive patients to care. Cultural competency and sensitivity are critical components of the state’s certification process.

Student reaction to the training and certification was overwhelmingly positive. Jennifer Mendez, Ph.D., director of Co-Curricular programs, said being able to apply the knowledge they receive in the classroom to actual patient settings “is a perk” for students. “These 18 students have been very diligent in completing the course work and actively engaged in discussions with the MDCH trainers.”

Upon completion, David Coleman, a second-year medical student and coordinator of the STI/AIDS Education Initiative student group, said, “This program was excellent. It gave us career-relevant skills to counsel effectively and approach sexual health with sensitivity.”

Leslie Korson, a second-year student and group coordinator, agreed. “It's been especially valuable learning how to have difficult conversations with patients that many health care providers avoid.”

All of the 18 students who were certified participate in the School of Medicine’s Co-Curricular program, which provides academic credit for service activities that enhance students’ understanding of patients or communities’ needs.

With their skills, students plan to serve as volunteer test counselors for local HIV prevention agencies. Among other organizations, students will volunteer with The Horizons Project, a partnership between the School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital of Michigan.

Elizabeth Secord, M.D., professor of Pediatrics and clinical director of The Horizons Project, said certifying medical students to test and counsel for HIV is a huge step in the right direction.

“Our students need to be educated about HIV and about how to approach patients about HIV risks and testing,” Dr. Secord said. “They need to be comfortable with all aspects HIV and help us identify and treat patients. This is no longer an ‘elective’ interest, but a necessity for a good health care provider.”

Amna Osman, HIV/AIDS director of the MDCH, agreed. “The HIV certification increases provider comfort with conversations about sexuality and sexual health by building client-centered communication skills. If providers respect and foster trust among their patients, they will be more effective in assisting them in the adoption of behaviors that reduce HIV transmission. With the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the health care system will require more doctors who have an awareness of HIV and its impact on the communities in which they will work."

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