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News | March 17, 2023

Northwestern State University Students Talk about STIs with Soldiers

By Jean Graves, Medical Readiness Command, West

Nursing students from Northwestern State University conducted a service-learning project about the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases March 9 to Soldiers at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, Louisiana.

Jennifer Joo and Laura Brigman, both military spouses and nursing students at NSU, wanted to do their project in partnership with Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital because they want to normalize the discussion surrounding STIs in their community.

Brigman said she and Joo worked closely with BJACH Public Health Nursing and shared information from the Centers for Disease Control.

“We are following the CDC campaign for Talk. Test. Treat. and the most important aspect of the campaign is talking to your partner and getting tested together,” she said. “Normalizing the conversation about the prevention of STIs; ‘I care about you,’ ‘I want us both to stay healthy,’ are just a few of the conversation starters we are encouraging Soldiers to have with their partners.”

Joo said she chose to pursue a nursing degree because she never wants to stop learning or giving back to her community.

“We chose to do our project on STIs because we realized there was a lack of knowledge about the subject among military members at Fort Polk,” she said. “We want Soldiers to know, STIs are preventable and it’s not a death sentence.”

Brigman always wanted to pursue a career in medicine. She said she followed a different path including enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps but finally decided to follow her heart and become a nurse.

“Nursing isn’t necessarily a job, it’s a passion and that is why I love it,” she said.

Brigman said the topic is relevant because there is a significant rise in STIs, a concerning public health issue in Louisiana.

“I think it is an important conversation to have,” she said. “There are potential lifelong problems that can occur from STIs if you don’t get it treated quickly or prevent it from the start.”

Toni Pritchard, public health nurse at BJACH, worked closely with the students as they prepared for the project.

“We are dedicated to help nursing students be successful in their program,” she said.

Pritchard, a former nursing instructor at Lamar Salter Technical Community College, said service-learning projects like this one are very important.

“It helps students use their creativity in addressing needs,” she said. “They research the topic and identify gaps in knowledge. Then, they determine the most appropriate way to deliver that information to their chosen audience. Having the opportunity to go out and function as a nurse in an education component is essential. Projects like this help them to build confidence that will help them be successful in their nursing careers.”

Pritchard said STI education is very important to the Fort Polk community.

“Louisiana is number two in the nation for sexually transmitted diseases,” she said. “Fort Polk tends to mirror what is going on in the state.”

Pritchard said some STIs are curable, some are not.

“Their project Talk. Test. Treat. philosophy is important because we need to identify the STI in order to treat it,” she said. “We are encouraging anyone who is sexually active to talk about sex with their partners, get tested, and if necessary, get the appropriate treatment.”

Joo said during their project they spoke to nearly 75 Soldiers from 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.

“Talking about STI prevention before becoming sexually active with a new partner is a healthy way to begin a new relationship,” she said. “Not having the conversation can potentially lead to problems down the road.”

Brigman said if the conversations aren’t had there are ways to protect yourself from STI.

“Whether you are male, female, or identify as female or male, you can take steps to prevent contracting or spreading sexually transmitted infections,” she said. “Condoms are most effective, but there are lots of different types of sex and lots of different options to protect yourself.”

To learn more about the "Talk. Test. Treat." campaign visit www.cdc.gov/std/saw/talktesttreat or contact the BJACH Department of Public Health Nursing to schedule a class for your unit or organization.

Editor’s Note: The BJACH Walk-In STI Clinic is open Monday through Friday from 8 – 9:30 a.m. in building 3515 Georgia Avenue. For more information or to coordinate training for your unit or organization call 337-337-6131.
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