When people first meet me – I always get the question, what are you doing working in the field of HIV/AIDS? I am now able to better answer this question after having the opportunity to attend this year’s 25th United States Conference on AIDS (USCA) that took place, at Caesars Palace Hotel in Las Vegas. The reason that I was able to attend USCA is due to the sponsorship of ViiV Healthcare. The National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) annually hosts UCSA, and this year’s theme was “Ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic.
It was my first conference that I attended on such a large scale. I was given advice from different co-workers and peers on what to expect and on the dos and don’ts. No one could have prepared me for what I was going to experience over the 4 days that I attended USCA. From the moment that I began my 4-day journey at the USCA, to the networking meeting or to the moment that I checked out of the hotel I was empowered, inspired, and personally moved.
I literally got off my plane, checked into my hotel room, and had to immediately go to the networking meeting for ViiV Healthcare’s Positive Action Southern Initiative. I walked into the conference room not knowing anyone, so I sat at a table with six other individuals and introduced myself.
I was astonished how easy the conversations flowed and how much each of us had to share with one another about our experiences in our respective fields of HIV/AIDS. The feeling of being an outcast due to my age and only 3 years of experience quickly went away from the shock of how many questions the other network members asked me about the programs that are funded at Compass, and how we implement them. I could not believe that I was giving other people advice on the work that we are doing!
After our table conversation, the group individually introduced themselves and their agencies. I remember feeling a sense of relief when I heard other young professionals speak because it has been my experience as a case management coordinator that I tend to be the youngest in the room at conferences, meetings, and/or forums. So, it was nice to see that other young professionals are working to make a difference. The feeling of knowing I was supposed to be there really gave me a sense that I was at home and allowed me to be very comfortable interacting with the others just taking it all in.
I was pumped and ready for more after that! Over the next 3 days during the seminars, luncheons, and the exhibit hall I met an array of individuals that had come from all areas of the country that ranged from case managers, public health workers, advocates, and people living with HIV/AIDS, to physicians and policymakers. I built a national support network, exchanged information and received knowledge on cutting-edge tools that focus on bringing the HIV/AIDS epidemic to an end.
On the morning of my last day at the conference, I digested my experience over breakfast to figure out what this all meant for me. I was given the ability to experience where we are as a country on our fight against HIV/AIDS, the large amount of work that is still needed against the battle and how I can help empower other young people to get involved. So, the next time anyone asks me what I am doing working in the field of HIV/AIDS, my response will be I am here to make a difference.
Julia Murphy is the Case Management Coordinator at Compass Gay and Lesbian Community Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org