“You’re not going to be happy ‘when.’ I thought, ‘I’ll be happy when I finish residency… It’s really important to just be happy now. To do something that you love, to be in a place that you love, to be around people who make you feel good about yourself. I think prioritizing yourself and your happiness is really important.” -Dr. Joanne Stekler 

In today’s episode, Jen talks with renowned HIV expert, Dr. Joanne Stekler. Dr. Stekler is not only a leader in her field of medicine, but has been instrumental in creating an app to help people find HIV resources, testing and preprophylaxis treatment, HealthMindr. In her spare time, she has a wonderful cooking blog, The UglyDucklingBakery.com

Have you ever been interested in creating an app or a blog of your own? If so, tune it to find out what it takes and how to get started! 

Dr. Stekler refers to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast Episode 29, “Building Business Outside Your Day Job with Dr. Saira Ahmed”, when she says, “One of the things from a previous podcast was about the analysis paralysis that doctors face.” Listen to that episode by clicking here.

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Dr. Joanne Stekler’s research centers on HIV testing and HIV prevention. She is a national expert on HIV tests, particularly focused on acute HIV infection and point-of-care testing. She started the first community-based clinic for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in Seattle and is currently working to increase access to PrEP and PrEP adherence across Washington State. Source: https://sph.washington.edu/faculty/facbio/Stekler_Joanne

She received her Bachelor of Arts from Williams College, her Doctor of Medicine (MD) from Duke University and her MPH in epidemiology from the University of Washington.

You can find Dr. Joanne Stekler on Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Pinterest and in this Facebook Group

Excerpts from the show:

“How does HealthMindr help you reach out to the underserved populations that have difficulty getting access (to HIV testing and prophylaxis)?” -Dr. Jen Barna

“If you back up to the 1990s, the Internet didn’t exist and one of the first things as we moved into the 2000s is that people were using the Internet to find sex. And you thought as a public health person, ‘Well, if people are using the Internet to find sex, can we use the Internet to help them access prevention and testing and research and all those other things?’ So very early on I said, ‘I’m going to build an app!’ I think I had ten thousand dollars to build this app and try to help people find resources. That’s what got me interested in what I’ll put under the umbrella of electronic or mobile health and other related technologies.  And so in a partnership with Patrick Sullivan at Emory University, we did some work trying to understand what men who are at risk for HIV acquisition would want in an app. Do they want sex diaries, do they want all sorts of other things? And it started off in the pre-prep. So in 2010 or something like that, thinking about how do we encourage people to get on regular HIV testing schedules, (the recommendation is that folks who are sexually active should get tested for HIV once a year and if they are at particular risk to get tested every three months or so), so how do we help them get reminders for them to get an HIV test? So this app started off really HIV testing focused, and then when PrEP HIV (pre-exposure prophylaxis) got approved in 2012, we incorporated asking people about PrEP, and what we realized from some of our initial work with HealthMindr is that people were accessing the app for information and for locating resources. So what we’re testing right now in the southeast part of the United States is whether or not access to this app with information and assessments for what is your risk, should you be on PrEP, do you need post exposure prophylaxis, and how to find those resources, and whether having access to that app will get people on PrEP. That’s what we’re testing right now, we’re in I think year four of a five-year project right now.” -Dr. Joanne Stekler

“How did you find time to start a blog?” -Dr. Jen Barna

“I always do too much and whatever I do I do it to the fullest extent that I can, that’s the short answer. I think, you know, again, I’ve always been cooking and baking all my life and I think I started baking more and doing bread when my kiddo went to school and I had to start providing her lunches. It’s like we need bread and you realize the store bread is just not as good as something that you can make at home. So then I started making bread a couple times a week and then it was the sort of sharing of all my cooking on social media that happened at the start of the pandemic. You know I’d always been doing it, and occasionally I’d been posting, ‘Hey look at this fun thing that I’ve made’ but it wasn’t every day, it certainly wasn’t once a month. Then when the pandemic started in February and March, as an infectious disease doc, I was trying to help my network of about 400 to 500 folks who are Facebook friends with me, some of whom are docs but many of whom aren’t, to try and make sense of all the information and fear that was happening in February and March of last year. I started feeling guilty about how much Covid information I was sharing and I wanted to make sure that I was sharing some other thing. I decided one day to ask everybody a question about bean burgers because I’ve been a vegetarian for ten years in my past and I love a good bean burger, I just find the homemade ones to be so mushy. So I just asked them, ‘What can I do to make my bean burgers less mushy?’ and my friends, a lot of whom are cooks, started sharing all sorts of tips. Put it in corn starch or add some vital wheat gluten or dry the beans. Drying the beans was the answer. Dry the beans for ten to fifteen minutes in the oven and that really helps, I’ve also added quinoa. There’s a whole post you can read on my blog about all the steps that I’ve done. You know, it’s not a beef burger,  it’s never going to be, but I think it’s now a good vehicle for cheese and condiments and everything else that you want in a burger.” -Dr. Joanne Stekler

“How do these different parts of your life as a physician, researcher, patient advocate, mom and blogger intersect?” -Dr Jen Barna

“Well, I can’t turn off any part of me so something that I’ve learned as a food blogger potentially might influence me as a doctor and vice versa. I came up with five rules, or advice, to live by that I think are equally applicable regardless of what part of my life we’re talking about:

Lesson 1: There are always going to be people who cheat and who take advantage of other people, who don’t share and who really are just climbing. My advice is, Don’t be one of those people. 

Lesson 2: It’s really important to identify a niche. So this is something that, as an academic physician, you learn very early on when you’re starting a fellowship. Everyone tells you, ‘Identify one place where you can be the expert.’ For me it was acute HIV infection, recognition of symptoms and HIV testing. So if anybody had a question or needed a speaker they would think, ‘Oh, I need to ask Joanne’. Then, as I’ve gotten more experience and more stable funding I’ve been able to expand my niche but it’s really important to focus, again both in academia as well as in blogging. And I think it’s important that that area is something that you love and you’re good at and it’s important to recognize that there’s room for everyone in all of these worlds. Everyone has a voice. But start small and realize that you have to solve a problem for other people.” -Dr. Joanne Stekler

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