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. Crystal recently completed her certification through the American Academy of HIV Medicine.
“I’m so excited to have another HIV Specialist on our CHC/SEK ID (infectious disease) team,” Dr. 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 Crystal and Dr. Stewart, they can stay in their hometowns and get care five days a week.
Crystal also just entered a year-long training through the Midwest AIDS Training and Education Center’s (MATEC) Clinical Scholar Program with the University of Kansas School of Medicine.
The program pairs participants with a mentor, provides access to clinical consultations with other HIV providers, and there are many opportunities to advance their knowledge through live and virtual meetings and sessions. Crystal’s mentor is Donna E. Sweet, MD, AAHIVS, MACP, a Professor of Medicine from the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita. Dr. Sweet has been at the front of fighting HIV and AIDS in Kansas for 30 years. Crystal has monthly meetings with Dr. 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 patients that we serve to improve their retention in care and their overall health,” Crystal 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, Crystal said.
HIV specialists not only diagnose and treat individuals with HIV, but they also work to prevent others from acquiring it, Crystal said, adding that the treatment of HIV has come so far in the past 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,” Crystal 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.”
Crystal is also nearing completion of an Internal Medicine fellowship with Dr. 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 Dr. 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,” Crystal 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.”
About Crystal Garcia
Crystal graduated from Pittsburg State University and Labette Community College. After completing her advanced practice education at PittState, she applied to be in the 2021-2022 cohort for the Nurse Practitioner Residency program at CHC/SEK, a yearlong residency program that provides additional intense and focused education to nurse practitioners who have completed their advanced practice education and have obtained board certification. The residency program is a partnership between the PSU School of Nursing and CHC/SEK, providing a guided transition into a practitioner role.
Prior to her graduate degree and residency, she worked as a registered nurse for 13 years in almost every area of the acute care setting, including medical/surgery, obstetrics, intensive care unit, and emergency department. She also taught in the nursing program at Labette Community College for two years. “These experiences gave me a great foundation to build on in my current practice,” Crystal said.
Crystal and her husband have three daughters. The older two are in their twenties — one soon to be wed. Their youngest is 12 and keeps her “cool,” Crystal said, adding that she is heavily involved in dance and keeps the couple busy and entertained. Other “family” include two boxers, Winston and Eleanor.
“If you want to distract me, ask about them!” Crystal said.
She loves her houseplants, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, she took up doing DIY projects. She has now built herself a porch swing, a dining room table, a buffet/sideboard, reupholstered dining room chairs, and a few other random projects.