CHC/SEK Nurse Practitioner becomes HIV Specialist

CHC/SEK Nurse Practitioner Crystal Garcia, DNP, APRN, FNP-C, AAHIVS, listens to a patient’s heart at the CHC/SEK Coffeyville clinic. Submitted photo.

Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas Nurse Practitioner Crystal Garcia, DNP, APRN, FNP-C, AAHIVS, joins CHC/SEK’s Family Physician Julie Stewart, MD, as the second HIV
Specialist at CHC/SEK.

Garcia recently completed her certification through the American
Academy of HIV Medicine.

“I’m so excited to have another HIV Specialist on our CHC/SEK Infectious Disease team,” Stewart said. “Crystal has a heart for the patients and the knowledge to care for them with
excellence. We are blessed to have her expertise on our growing team as we reach more and more patients each day.”

Prior to the inception of CHC/SEK’s Infectious Disease team, people living with HIV had to travel up to three hours to see their HIV Specialist in Wichita or Kansas City or wait up to 12
weeks for an HIV Specialist to come to them in Pittsburg. Now, between Garcia and Stewart, they can stay in their hometowns and get care five days a week.

Garcia also just entered into a year-long training through the Midwest AIDS Training and Education Center’s (MATEC) Clinical Scholar Program with the University of Kansas School of

The program pairs participants with a mentor, provides access to clinical consultations with otherHIV providers, and there are many opportunities to advance their knowledge through live and
virtual meetings and sessions. Garcia’s mentor is Donna E. Sweet, MD, AAHIVS, MACP, a Professor of Medicine from the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita. Sweet has been at the front of fighting HIV and AIDS in Kansas for 30 years. Garcia has monthly meetings with Sweet and will have the opportunity to shadow her in the clinic several times this fall.

“This program offers so many resources and education that I will be able to pass on to patientsthat we serve to improve their retention in care and their overall health,” Garcia said.
HIV specialists provide and have access to wrap around care that includes evidenced based practice knowledge to help those diagnosed with HIV. This increases engagement in treatment,
retention in care and decreases the effects this virus can have if not adequately controlled, Garcia said.

HIV specialists not only diagnose and treat individuals with HIV, but they also work to prevent others from acquiring it, Garcia said, adding that the treatment of HIV has come so far in the 40 years that individuals with HIV when engaged in care with an HIV specialist, can have a very positive prognosis.

“By being able to care for individuals diagnosed with HIV, we often are a ray of hope in someone’s life that they may not have seen on their own,” Garcia said. “This diagnosis can come
with so many negative thoughts and feelings that often individuals are ashamed and would rather not come into care due to fear and the unknown.

“It is beyond rewarding to be able to help people diagnosed with HIV understand their diagnosis and how it is very manageable throughout their lifespan. As a provider for people living with
HIV, there is a very unique connection that occurs and sometimes the person just needs acceptance and to be heard to see their life is not over and their future can look very parallel to what they planned prior to their diagnosis.”


Garcia is also nearing completion of an Internal Medicine fellowship with Stewart, a 12-month program designed to be an internal medicine/infectious disease fellowship within CHC/SEK. She
spent the first three months side-by-side with Stewart for every patient she interacted with, before seeing patients independently at the CHC/SEK Baxter Springs, Columbus, Coffeyville,
Fort Scott, Iola, and Pleasanton clinics.

She also regularly has appointments via Telehealth to
Independence and Parsons. Occasionally, on an emergency basis, she will Telehealth into other clinics, such as CHC/OK in Miami.

“I believe Dr. Stewart and I have built a very solid professional relationship that only adds to
each patient’s care,” Garcia said. “Our patients are aware we are a team and very much operate under this mindset to provide each patient with what they need and want from their healthcare.
“This last year has been a steep learning curve that has forced me to dive deep into myself and hustle for a goal that I truly believe benefits each patient. This fellowship is a huge building
block that enhances my professional ability to improve my practice.”

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