Today we have Dr Christina Madison, who’s a, an HIV specialist and an innovator in the pharmacist’s role in public health.





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What you will learn

  • The pharmacist as a Healthcare Provider.
  • The pharmacist’s Role in Public Health.
  • Learn more about pharmacist’s role in the provision of PrEP and PEP services.
  • Having the “sex” conversation with your patients.

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Michelle: Hi, this is Michelle Sherman, president of Michelle Rex pharmacist consulting services and the host of the conscious pharmacist podcast. The conscious pharmacist podcast is very proud to be part of the great pharmacy podcast network and the plethora of great pharmacy-related podcasts that are available on the network today. I am so excited because we have an amazing guest on our show today. Today we have dr Christina Madison, who’s a, an HIV specialist and an innovator in the pharmacist’s role in public health. She’s got a website that is amazing. It’s the public health and I am so happy that we have dr Madison on our podcast today. Welcome, Christina. Thanks for being on the show.

Christina: Thank you so much, Michelle, for having me. It’s such a wonderful opportunity to talk with someone who I feel is really in line with my goal and my mission to promote public health and, and to really advocate for those who may not have a voice and the underserved. And, and I really applaud you for having this passion for wanting to get the information out there to, to people who really need it.

Michelle: No, thank you. And thanks. You know, thanks so much for being on our show. I mean, the work that you do in Las Vegas is extraordinary. I mean, Las Vegas, just like orange County here in California is identified as one of the 48 hotspot counties in the national plan to get to zero and, you know, tell our listeners about your work and how you got into this field of practice.

Christina: Yeah. So I kind of have a little bit of a unique tale of how I ended up where I am today. So interestingly enough you know, I, I did residencies just like a lot of other pharmacists did. I graduated from pharmacy school 15 years ago and was inpatient based in a VA system. And really the the common thread was I really liked critical care and obviously, with critical care, there’s a large infectious disease component. And when I left my residency, I took a position teaching at a medical school here in Las Vegas cause I wanted to move back home. And my residency was in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I taught at the medical school at Touro, which is a DEO program for about two years and just really, really missed patient care and really wanted that ability to give back to my community cause I feel very strongly about that.

Christina: And so left my position my faculty position, took a job working with managed care, but it was also right when Medicare part D hit. And so instead of doing direct patient care, which is what I was promised I ended up doing prior off for 12 hours a day, so was not very happy and ran into a colleague that I worked with at the college of pharmacy where I graduated from, which was at that time it was called University of Southern Nevada. It’s now called Roseman university of health sciences. And at that point, they were actually looking for a pharmacist to develop clinical services with our local health department. So I, I knew nothing about public health, knew nothing about working at a health department they’d never had a pharmacist on staff for them full time. They had had a pharmacist there, but they basically came repackaged medication and then left.

Christina: Like they couldn’t ask this guy any questions. He was just like, I’m just here to give you your meds and left. Right. So they took a chance on me, I took a chance on them and it was one of the most fruitful partnership and it really defined me as a professional and, and sort of my professional trajectory of where I am now. So I spent 10 years at the public health department developing services for them. So I worked in their STD clinic HIV clinic. I did family planning immunizations and tuberculosis as well as disaster planning so that was pretty amazing. And then about a little less than two years ago, I actually transitioned to a family medicine clinic that caters to the LGTBQ community here in town because I wanted to focus more on my HIV prevention as well as the underserved, specifically the LGTBQ community and wanted to do a little bit more with gender-affirming care because that’s, that’s kind of lacking in our community. So the clinic I work with is called Huntridge family clinic and we’re the largest provider of HIV prevention and gender-affirming care in the state. So it’s been an amazing transition and I’ve just felt really fortunate to have had such an opportunity to be kind of at the forefront of public health pharmacy over the past now 12 years working directly in public health pharmacist role and direct patient care.

Michelle: Yeah, it’s the most extraordinary experience. Like, you know, for myself also as a pharmacist is luck when you can actually directly impact somebody’s life and outcomes taking, you know, the knowledge and everything we have as pharmacists and really making changes in the actual care plans besides just filling prescriptions and putting them in a bottle. And I think the work that you do at Huntridge is absolutely extraordinary. I’m, I’m very familiar with that work and I’ve heard Rob Phoenix-like speak a lot about gender-affirming care and you know, for our listeners out there, you know, working for and within these communities is so important because the work that Christina does in, in the realm of public health, you know, for, for the LGBT community and for, for transgender patients to be able to get access to lifesaving care in a, in a, in a sensitive manner in a comfortable manner so that people will come back and keep coming back for their appointments. It’s absolutely like, like critical. And I think a lot of times many pharmacists don’t really, really realize the impact that they can have on their patients, the way they get treated.

Christina: Yeah, I mean, I can tell you right now I’m actually looking at the impact of having an advanced pharmacy practice experience. How that experience specifically in LGTBQ health is impacting my students. So I have a research project going on right now with that, but anecdotally I can tell you that the exposure that my students have had has just been so beneficial for them you know, the first time I had a student come back to me and tell me that they had a patient at the community pharmacy setting, that they took the time to ask if it would be okay for them to put their preferred name into the system so that they didn’t misgender them the next time that they came to the pharmacy and how appreciative that that patient was. Because, you know, especially with our, our transgender population, every time that their misgendered or every time that they’re referred to by what we consider their dead name versus their affirmed name and their preferred name, it’s a microaggression.

Christina: So every time it’s a negative impact and the negative feeling that they get from that individual space. And so how likely would you feel to go back to your pharmacy if every time you went there you had a negative exposure? Would you be more or less likely to take your medication the way it was directed because you didn’t want to go back to that pharmacy cause you felt like you were going to have that negative impact or negative exposure? So even something as small as just asking, you know, what’s your preferred pronouns or what is your preferred name could make such a difference for somebody who identifies as transgender or is in the pro, you know, in the current transition space. So I just think you know, from my standpoint, I, I can’t think of anything, you know, more gratifying as a, as a faculty member and as a teacher to see your students have that light bulb go off and see the impact that they can have with their patients and the care that they are able to provide and just be very culturally competent and sensitive and, and how that can really impact them for their whole profession and for their whole careers.

Michelle: Oh, absolutely. I mean, not experiences or, or like turning points in, in people’s career. Like you, you had them, I had them. And now for your students, I mean these, these are the pharmacists that are going to come and be in these advanced practices and be able to really change the lives of our patients. And it is, it’s so important. And you know, I want to listen to that, that you realize, I mean, this podcast called the conscious pharmacists for a reason. We have to be conscious when we engage with patients and in every single thing, we do in, in our own practices and everything. And we have to be conscious and mindful of what our patients need and who they are. And you’re absolutely right. I mean, calling people are the right names or asking them how they want to be you know, listed in the computer system. All those make a difference. We, we had a transgender patient, at one of our pharmacies who was referred to a physician and the doctor who was an HIV specialist for the last 30 years refused to call her by the name she wanted to be called because her Medicaid card said the melee.

Christina: Right? Yeah. It happens all the time and it’s, and it’s really unfortunate and that’s why I’m advocating for more LGTBQ health and culturally competent care related educational programs within allied health professional schools. So last year I had the ability to add LGTBQ health as part of my men’s and women’s health block. And it was so gratifying because of the fact that I have students that identify in that space that were in that class. And you know, I, I had a student who actually cried and at first I thought I had offended him, but he told me, he said, you know, I never thought that I would be in professional school and hear someone speak so kindly and so considerately my community and I just was, I was just in awe of that. You know, for me, I just felt like, here’s an unmet need. We need to make sure that this gets taught because I want to make sure that my students are prepared because they are more likely to see someone who identifies in this space and requires that competence for when they practice. But in this person’s eyes, it was this a totally different experience.

Michelle: No, that’s, that’s just, I mean there’s nothing more rewarding than that. Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, it’s, it’s, it’s incredible. And I think, you know, putting, these practices in practice like in, in the school, so students are learning them. Pharmacists are going to graduate that are not going to have like any of these issues. They’ll be able to take care of their patients. And when we think about getting to zero, how do you, how do you get to zero new HIV infections if you can’t communicate with the communities that you need to communicate with to empower them to take care of their health? If they never want to come back to your pharmacy because of the way they’ve been treated or to the clinic, they’re going to be lost to care. They can get HIV infected and then it spirals out of control from there.

Christina: I think first and foremost as pharmacists, I think traditionally we are thought of as being very conservative. I think we need to kind of get out of that space and start being comfortable talking about sex and being able to engage with our patients about their sexual health because their sexual health is related to their overall health. Right. Because if you don’t address it, you could miss something. Right? So I’ll just give you an example. When I was working at the health department, we had a patient in his early twenties he came to the clinic and he, you know, he said, you know, I went to the doctor and they gave me a prescription and they told me I had chickenpox. But I really didn’t think that that was the correct diagnosis. So, you know, come to find out this person was MSM, which is men who have sex with men and had recently had an, an a, an encounter with condomless sex and you know, classic secondary syphilis rash, Toms in the hands, soles of the feet and on the trunk provider never asked about sexual history.

Christina: And so when they, you know, went through their differential diagnosis, syphilis wasn’t even on it because they didn’t take the time to think about sex as being part of that initial assessment. And so I think we just, in general, need to get comfortable talking about people’s sex lives and sexual health and here’s the thing, I’m not trying to get into bedroom cause that’s none of my business. But what I would like to though is, you know, who, what, what parts are you using and who are you engaging in encounters with? Because if I know that, then I can establish your risk and if I know your risk then I can help you with harm reduction strategies to help prevent you from getting, not just STDs but also HIV acquisition as well. So I think we need to have a very, you know, open dialogue about something that is typically seen as taboo. And I know that the pharmacy counter may not be what we think of as an opportune time to start talking about sex. But if somebody’s coming in seeking postexposure prophylaxis or if they’re seeking emergency contraception or if they’re there for this are mice in one gram. Cause guess what, that’s only for one thing on STD. We really should be talking about their risk for HIV acquisition, which includes the sexual health assessment.

Michelle: No, absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. I always joke with my peers and everything that we live like in a bubble. I’m dealing with HIV. I mean we have no problem talking about sex with our patients and all the STDs in and encouraging them to, you know, share all the information, you know, speaking to patients and telling them, tell us everything. The more information we have, the better the plan we can come up with you. But you right out in the community at large, physicians never asked those questions. Generally when you know, the symptoms of layering, they too embarrassed of whatever reason and they don’t bring it up. It just, I mean, how many diagnosed HIV diagnoses have you seen go undiagnosed for months and months and months because the primary provider or the OBGYN or whoever the patient was going to just completely overlook those symptoms. Didn’t even do an HIV test, doesn’t even ask the patients.

Christina: Yeah. Mo, multiple times. And at that point, now the person has progressed to having an opportunistic infection and you’re like, why did this person not get tested? Right. You know, the centers for disease control and prevention recommend testing from 13 to 64-year-olds. Right. So that means that you should be tested at least once annually. And in some cases more frequently if you’re testing positive for a sexually transmitted infection or depending on sex practices. So like obviously our MSM and our transgender women are at higher risk just because of the types of encounters that they’re having. Because we know that having anal receptive sex puts you at a higher risk for HIV acquisition as well as the fact that if you have a concurrent STD, you’re more likely to get and given STD. Right. I always say, and I had a colleague of mine at the health district used to say this all the time, a sore is a door, right?

Christina: So, you know, you really need to think about, you know, if this person has a history of an, of an FTD in the past, you know, they’re, they are more likely or potentially at more risk for getting an STD in the future, which may include HIV. So for me, it’s harm reduction strategies, right? I work in an area where there is illegal prostitution, right? So, not to mention a booming adult film industry because they’ve had some changes in California law. And so now a lot of those, those producers and production agencies have moved to Vegas. So we have a fair amount of our clientele at our patients, at our clinic that works in, in the adult film industry. And so they test very regularly because otherwise, they can’t work. So you can’t ask those typical questions, which are, you know, how many sex partners have you had?

Christina: And to use the, you know, the harm reduction strategy of just, you know, reduce the number of sex partners. Because if that’s your means of employment, you can’t readily do that. Do you have to kind of think outside the box? Right? So if I can’t reduce your number of sex partners, what else can I do to reduce your risk? So first and foremost, knowing the status of your partners, right? So that’s number one. So having that open and honest dialogue with your partner, when was the last time you tested? The next thing would be making sure that you test on a regular basis, which a lot of the people who work in the adult film industry do because the talent can’t work unless they have a recent test that’s negative. And then for our individuals who engage in commercial sex work, we, we also tell them that, you know, using things like prep is also something that could help benefit them because if they can’t reduce the number of sex partners, they may not be able to know the status of their partners, especially if it’s a new client, right?

Christina: Then how else are we going to be able to protect them? So prep is, is a great option, but we don’t want to forget about the STDs. We are now at a critical mass of the number of STDs. We are at the highest level of STDs since we have started recording them. So there’s over a million new cases of sexually transmitted infections diagnosed daily across the world, right? So the national institutes of health at the beginning of this month has now named STDs as a public health crisis. So again, I really see that this is a role for pharmacists and for us as the most accessible healthcare professional to at least the looking for those patients who may be at risk and to offer those harm reduction strategies so that we can start benefiting our communities and getting some of these STD rates down.

Michelle: No, absolutely. And that’s why, you know, the new California California law SB one five nine is, is a great thing for pharmacy here in California with, you know, pharmacists will be able to provide the initial two months, of prep to patients. And it’s, it is, it’s absolutely critical and I’m always encouraging my CREC patients and talking about STDs and everything and letting them know, you know like the prep is like birth control for HIV. You might not be contracted HIV, but you still going to get all these STDs so you have to continue getting get tested and everything. Have you seen like an increase in use in prep in like the adults the, the adult film industry as well? A lack of courage, you know,

Christina: Absolutely. So I don’t think it’s being so, not necessarily on the top, like the talent agency side, but definitely the, I mean obviously this is anecdotal and I’m an N of one because our clinic tends to have those types of patients because they often fear going to what I would call the more traditional healthcare setting, which is like the typical, you know, PCP, physician and so when they come to us, it’s that holistic approach. And obviously they know that we cater to the LGTBQ community, but also because we are very sex-positive and that’s something that we promote as a clinic. And so it’s really funny I was chatting with another colleague about this and I was like, man, I feel like I’m like the dr Ruth of pharmacy. Cause I, I’ve, I’m always talking about Zach, but I’m sure you kind of feel like this do especially cause you to work with and HIV care, but you know, being sort of the like self-appointed sexpert I think that we all just, that conversation about prep is just ingrained like across the board.

Christina: So like our clinic was, we were involved in the discover trial looking at Truvada versus disco V. We’re also part of the open-label extension trial that’s ongoing. So just everyone who comes to our clinic knows they’re going to have a conversation about prep. Like it’s pretty much a given. So can I say that I think that the individuals in the adult film industry are increasing their prep utilization? I would say there’s definitely an increased awareness in our clinic. We broached the topic often. So if you’re not on it, we asked you about it and we ask you why. And usually that’s a, well, I’m in a monogamous relationship and I test frequently, so it’s not really something I think I need or it’s, yeah. You know what, I hadn’t thought about that. Let’s, let’s talk a little bit more about that and then they end up on it. So I, I think that I’m in a unique situation because of our clinic sort of lends itself to the, you know, the openness of prep care and we really eliminate a lot of the typical barriers that you see to prep utilization.

Michelle: Oh, that’s, that’s, that’s fantastic. And you know, I think if, if, if we can take these approaches like across the country, we can really like affect change in our communities and all the, all these plans of, you know, by 2030, you’re getting to like zero infections. How are we going to get there? And one of the things is you know, you, you, you also do a lot of work with you know, family planning and, and women’s health. And my thing has always been how can we ever get to zero and this woman have total autonomy and control of the own healthcare decisions in their own bodies to protect themselves from getting STDs, getting HIV infection and, and getting those things. I mean, do you have any thoughts about, you know, the role of us as pharmacists and how we can empower our, our female patients to hopefully take better charge of their own bodies to make informed decisions, about their care?

Michelle: Because as you talked about, you know, patients going to PCPs or other doctors in the community just like you, your patients would see secondary syphilis. And that being overlooked here in Orange County. We had this woman come into the clinic, she was a 62-year-old white woman from Southern orange County and she got pneumonia. She went to the doctor who PCPH. They put her on Bactrim, she got it. A few months later they put her on another antibiotic and this was going on for a year. Never once in the knee. Never once did they teach you for HIV, tested for HIV. Never. So finally a year later she was getting sicker and sicker. She went to OBGYN and the doctor’s about to walk out of the room and she said, you know what, it’s just doing HIV tests and you know, they did an HIV test on her and she got her results like a couple of days later.

Michelle: And not only did she have HIV, but now she had an AIDS diagnosis with all these, yeah, the confections and everything. And just because the doctor judged, Oh you know, you’re a white woman from Southern Orange County. Like why would we talk to you about stuff like that? And people need to understand that this affects everybody, every single person. And we have to have those conversations, whether it’s, you know, for transgender patients, for women, for any of our patients that are before us, we have to be conscious and think about who they are and also these questions. We can’t be afraid of sex and often those questions.

Christina: So I have a few thoughts on this. So the first and foremost thing is testing and access to testing and de-stigmatization of testing, right? So knowing your status, right? So I very rarely say the term HIV positive. I usually say someone with a positive status or living well with a positive status, right? So I think it’s, it’s, I’m, it may sound quirky, but I mean the way you save things and sort of the feeling behind how you’re seeing something really impacts whether or not somebody’s first and foremost takes your recommendation, but also how they feel about having that conversation moving forward. So we just need to do a better job of providing access to testing. So something that I took it upon myself to do this year is that I’m actually having a training program for my student pharmacists on HIV testing, rapid testing, and counseling.

Christina: So it’s something that the health department offers for clinics who serve as patients who want to be tested for HIV. And they can provide them with free testing if they’re CLIA waived so they can provide them with the test for free, which is like my clinic. So we have both Hep C and HIV testing that we can offer for free because we’ve gotten those resources from the health district. But I feel like, you know, our profession is evolving, right? We need to be able to do more direct patient care services. So why are we not doing the testing and the counseling and the linkage to care. So if you were a patient and you had the option of going to a pharmacy or going to a doctor’s office or you know, meeting to go to a quote unquote HIV clinic to get tested, which would you go to and feel like you were less stigmatized?

Christina: The pharmacy. Right? So we need to break down some of these barriers and allow for patients to test in a safe space that they feel like is convenient for them and is without stigma, right? So the getting to zero, the only way we’re going to be able to do that is if we empower people to get tested and to know their risks, right? So your risk is not just who you are, but where you live, right? So you just told me earlier that you’re in one of those identified counties that have seen an increase in new HIV acquisitions, just like me here in Las Vegas, right? So if that provider had known that they were in a location that had seen more rates of HIV acquisition, maybe they would have thought, maybe should be testing this person, not just looking at the fact that they’re not African American, not MSM, right?

Christina: Which is your highest risk, right? So you compare that, which is a one and two risk lifetime versus a white woman, which is a one and 880 risks, right? Lifetime risk. But if you live in an area that has a higher community viral load, then you’re at a higher risk, right? So it goes back to it’s testing and it’s education. And then looking at it from the standpoint of when can we impact women the most, their OBGYN appointment or when they’re seeking contraception, right? Cause most women are actually getting contraception for non-contraceptive benefits, right? So it’s not so much about pregnancy prevention. In a lot of cases, it’s for hormonal regulation. But with that being said, that doesn’t mean that they’re not having sex. So we still need to address the STD component, right? So education testing, reduction of barriers. And now we also have set up bill one 59 so this is a great start because again, we are in a public health crisis.

Christina: I can’t emphasize that enough. And obviously, in California as well as in Nevada, we are at the epicenter of new cases. And so we need to do all we can to provide the best care and to do it without putting up these barriers that prevent people from accessing necessary life. You know, life treating and life-affirming care, right? So HIV is not a death sentence that it used to be. But if we can prevent somebody from having this infection and we can do it reliably with using things like prep or pep for that matter. Right. Cause that’s also in the bill. Why wouldn’t you? Right. Like it just seems like such a no brainer that we should be able to provide this kind of care at the pharmacy level and at the pharmacy setting. So again, it’s, it’s 60 days within a two-year timeframe. But remember the pet care, anybody who’s coming in seeking pep, which is post-exposure prophylaxis, those individuals have established that they have risks. So really we should be transitioning. Anybody who’s trying to access pep care really right away, no delay, right. To prep care and then ultimately to the PCP or the primary provider for the continuation of prevention.

Michelle: No, absolutely. And you know, this is B159, I think hopefully, you know, for pharmacists and everything could be a game here in California. And as far as testing at the community pharmacy level, it’s like you say it’s a no brainer and if pharmacists are going to be certified to provide prep, they need to be able to provide all these, the HIV testing and everything right there on site. And as this bill was transitioning through the California legislature, it was always like a no brainer, but I was kind of really a bit taken aback about some of the resistance from some of the physicians and pharmacists being able to provide the prep, you know, from HIV providers who were thinking were going to be like step on their territory and take their patients away or do something like we would unable to like deal with drug interactions and side effects with their patients. It was like, well what are you talking about? It’s like a wheelhouse. Really. We do that all day long. So yeah, no, totally. Totally. So I’m, I mean the, the work is just extraordinary and you know, is HIV has evolved, so have all these modalities and I think every day like in a public health facet we can impact our patient care. And I’d love you to tell our listeners also about you, your website that the public health and what you’re going to be offering there and why you did the website.

Christina: Yeah, so I felt like there was not a kind of a one-stop-shop where someone could go to get resources related to public health interventions. So obviously my, one of my loves is sexual health and HIV, but really just all things public health. So I do a lot of immunizations as well as I do I work here at our, our volunteers in medicine of Southern Nevada clinic. So I work there once a month and I helped them with their vaccines as well as I see there any of their communicable disease patients. So Hep C and then latent tuberculosis. So these are services that are really vital to communities that pharmacists can do. And do well, right, because it’s an established diagnosis and it requires medication that could be intensive and require a lot of monitoring. So who better to do that than a pharmacist?

Christina: So I really wanted to provide a toolkit for that and a road map for pharmacists who may be looking to go into more advanced clinical services and not really know where to start. So I’m offering consulting services to sort of help with you know, identifying whether or not you’re in a state that would allow for those advanced clinical services as well as personal coaching so that I can do some career transformation everyone’s talking about the career pivot now because we are kind of in the midst of a, a change in our profession, right? From dispensing to more of our clinical skills and our cognitive skills and how do we get paid for those services. So that will be on the website as well as my speaking ability. And if someone wants me to come speak for them I can, do you know, pretty much anything public health-related and then media contributing.

Christina: So I do a fair amount of media contributing here in Las Vegas for a local news story or if people need a quote on a public health-related topic. And then last but not least, advocacy, right? Cause I want to advocate for public health and for community engagement. And so things like, you know, promoting the FB one five nine and letting other pharmacists know this is going on in California. These are some steps that maybe you can take to look about seeing if there’s some legislative room in your state for some of these interventions as well as, you know, advocating for women and girls. I’m on the nonprofit here in Las Vegas called to be a Shiro foundation. And our mission is to, you know, help women and girls in vulnerable situations and to help girls that may be victims of sex trafficking or in abusive relationships.

Christina: And so I really want to advocate for, for women and girls and to empower women to be their best selves. And that kind of all goes back to public health. So how do we help everyone be the best they can be? So that’s my website. And I’m super excited, it’s going to be a work in progress, but ultimately I have as much resources as I can. I’m going to put up there and then there’ll be a contact box. I all definitely have a link to this amazing podcast there as well. So I’m, I’m looking really forward to it growing and hopefully providing some guidance to pharmacists out there that are looking for something new to go into that could not only impact their communities

Michelle: But help us to push

Christina: The profession forward.

Michelle: Oh, fantastic. And for all our listeners out there all this information the transcription will be in the show notes as well as in the resources and the website and all Christina’s information will be on there. So if you need to get in touch with her, you can do so, through that. And this has been extraordinary and I want to take this opportunity to thank you so much for this great engaging podcast and all the work that you do. It’s, thank you so much.

Christina: My pleasure. And that again, the public health or you can find me on LinkedIn and I’m sure you’ll have a link to that with your notes for today’s program. Go out there and be sex-positive and help our communities live better lives and get down to zero and really help to get this HIV epidemic under control.

Michelle: No, absolutely. And to all your pharmacists out there remember, be the change.