STDs. Not exactly the first subject you want to talk about with your friends. To be honest, it wasn’t for me either. So how did I get to doing an entire research project about it, then? It started when I took GCH 350: Health Promotion and Education with Dr. Lisa Lindley. Dr. Lindley had talked about the anonymous STD self-testing being done by the Dean Street Clinic in London, England. What is anonymous STD self-testing, you may ask? Broadly speaking, it is when a person who does not have any symptoms (but just wants to get checked for STDs) gets a testing kit and collects the needed samples themselves without seeing a healthcare provider. After collecting the samples, the person will deposit them in a drop off box in the clinic. The clinic will then test the samples and the results are electronically sent to the donor. This reduces the embarrassment most people feel about discussing their sexual health with a healthcare provider.
After hearing about this kind of testing from her and how it could be used to combat the increasing rate of STD transmissions among college-age individuals, I approached her with the idea of possibly researching this subject. I felt that, by taking the judgement factor away from sexual health and STDs, more Mason students would be willing to get tested and treated. We came up with a two-part study: a) an anonymous survey to understand the general knowledge and perceptions of STD self-testing among Mason students and b) using the survey data, create 3 to 5 focus groups to find out more in-depth reasons why or why not Mason students would use an STD self-testing service. Over the Fall 2017 semester, we created the survey and pilot tested it among various groups including the Student Health Advisory Board. In the Spring 2018 semester, we will release the survey to the general Mason population and conduct the focus group sessions. While working on this project, I regularly read public health research and news articles about STDs, which I saved and categorized into a database. As a future (hopefully) physician and public health professional, I feel that this study gave me a real taste of what public health research is about. This study also showed me how to create effective interventions for the health problems various populations face.