Illustration by Bela Messex.
Students can now test themselves for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Previously, patients had the sole option of making an appointment with a clinician to get tested for STIs. Now, a self-directed test is offered that eliminates the need to see a doctor.

Doug Anderson, a fifth-year molecular, cell and developmental biology major, works at the health center as a phlebotomist, and as a lab and pharmacy technician. Anderson is one of the technicians who processes lab specimens for the test.

“It just saves students time from having to go through the entire medical process just to get a simple STD test done,” he said.

Patients fill out a form and drop it in a cubby in front of the lab for a lab technician to pick up. The patient provides a urine sample for chlamydia and gonorrhea and a blood sample for syphilis and HIV, which are sent to an outside lab to get tested.

But the STI self-test is not for everyone. Patients are encouraged to choose a test based on their specific needs.

“If you have any symptoms at all, you are recommended to see a doctor,” Anderson said. “If it is asymptomatic, then the test could be for you.”

Anderson recommended the website stdwizard.org, which offers a quiz that can help students assess whether the self-test is right for them.

Clarifying a patient’s situation determines whether seeing a clinician, taking a self-directed test or even waiting to test will be most effective.

“Maybe if you had unsafe sex last night, getting the STD test the next day isn’t going to do much for you, so you really need to kind of know when the best time to take it is,” Anderson said.

Patient care coordinator Beth Hyde said that this STI test was introduced to provide more options for students who might be too embarrassed to get an STI test.

“About a year ago we began to think of ways that we could reduce barriers to having students get tested,” she said. “Last winter, a survey was done on campus which demonstrated that half of the students on campus did not regularly … protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections.”

This survey motivated health center staff to involve more students in sexual health care.

“[Students’] embarrassment or concern about having to reveal [their sexual history] to someone else prevented some students from getting tested,” Hyde said. “We wanted to give some students the opportunity to get tested without having to worry about having a difficult conversation.”

Another resource that Hyde advocates is Student Health Outreach and Promotion. SHOP offers free, anonymous HIV testing. With the use of an oral swab, students can receive their results in 20 minutes.

Outreach programs like SHOP and the STI self-test promote the idea that students should choose to be a part of their health care needs.

Hyde emphasizes “really working with students to teach them how to take care of themselves and how to be healthy on their own,” to achieve this.

The self-test encourages patients to be proactive about health by reinforcing the idea that health is dependent upon the doctor and the patient.

“How do we acknowledge that the relationship between the provider and the student is a collaboration? It’s a partnership,” Hyde said.

Despite the newness of the self-test, it maintains the same level of accuracy and anonymity as the patient-doctor test, Anderson said. The price is also the same: a $20 lab fee and individually-priced STI tests, ranging from $1.43 to $11.40. For students who have other forms of private insurance (not SHIP), the tests are available for a $20 lab fee plus the cost of each individual test. These tests range from $1.43 to $11.40. A student with no insurance who wishes all 4 tests would have a maximum fee of $51.50.

“I’m really excited about this. I’m really, really happy,” Hyde said. “It’s another example of the ways in which the Health Center has really looked to figure out how do we best serve our community and make people as healthy as we can.”

Testing is offered in the basement of the Health Center every weekday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. (9:30 a.m. on Wednesdays). Anonymous HIV testing through SHOP is available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., in the Health Center.