The Collegian
Monday, November 29, 2021

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Free STI testing returns to student health center

<p>The Well-Being Center at the University of Richmond houses the Student Health Center.</p>

The Well-Being Center at the University of Richmond houses the Student Health Center.

The University of Richmond Student Health Center brought back its free sexually transmitted infection testing clinic, which did not run last year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Nursing Supervisor Slade Gormus initiated the clinic four years ago in partnership with the Virginia Department of Health.  

VDH counselors bring testing equipment to the health center and conduct testing for gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and HIV, said Brad Cox, the regional STI program coordinator for the VDH.

“I am really proud of how much it has grown,” Cox said. “We have seen more and more students taking advantage of this opportunity, so we have brought more staff over.” 

Although counselors from VDH conduct the testing, students looking to get hands-on experience in patient care by organizing and managing aspects of the clinic. 

For example, when senior Nile Harris is not intercepting football passes or playing the cello, he spends his time filing paperwork, taking blood and urine samples and greeting students who have come to the health center to be tested for STIs. 

“It’s not every day that you get to actually run your own clinic,” Harris said, referring to his position as the clinic’s student-manager. “It’s something that really interests me as a career.” 

When students operate the clinic, it creates a more comfortable atmosphere, Gormus said. According to a survey that Gormus gives to students who get tested, they often feel nervous that they will be judged at the clinic, but being among their peers makes the process easier, she said. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the students in charge of the clinic created a safe-sex-themed Jeopardy game to play with patients while they waited to be tested, Gormus said. 

“It was hilarious,” she said. “You could hear people laughing, and you could really see how the stigma was being reduced.” 

Peer educators share experiences and references that can help put people at ease, said Kaylin Tingle, faculty adviser for the UR Peer Well Education group.

Peer wellness education is especially important at a university because college-aged students are generally a high risk age group for all health issues, Shruti Sathish, co-leader of Peer Well Educators, said. Some college students have to make adult decisions without their family for the first time in their lives when they come to college, she said. 

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Educating students about health risks and sexual well-being in an engaging and empathetic manner is at the heart of the Peer Well Educator’s mission, Sathish said. Offering free and convenient services helps reach a larger number of students.

“It’s really important that [STI testing is] free because once you start having to pay for healthcare, it limits what care some people can get,” Harris said. 

Students can walk into the health center between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on alternating Thursdays and receive free STI testing and free sexual education from the VDH. The next clinic will be held on Oct. 28 at 8 p.m.

The VDH recommends that sexually active people get tested every three to six months, Cox said. 

The convenience of the clinic encourages students to get tested as a preventative measure, as opposed to diagnostic testing, Gormus said. Getting tested for STIs is like going to the dentist, she said. Everybody goes at least once a year, but they don’t necessarily have a toothache. 

“It’s just a part of what you do, if you decide to take the big responsibility of having sex,” Gormus said. 

Students interested in earning clinical hours by volunteering at the STI clinic can contact nile.harris@richmond.edu for details. Students interested in joining the UR Peer Well Education group should contact urwellpeereducators@gmail.com for details.

Contact contributor Leah Hincks at leah.hincks@richmond.edu.

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