Health Educator Enjoys Connecting with the HIV Community and Jamming on the Roller Derby Track

Jul 28, 2019

Anna Benbrook, MS, CHES began her career as a college heath educator working to promote healthy behaviors around fitness, nutrition, sexual health, tobacco cessation, and alcohol. When she moved to Tallahassee, FL in 2012 to work at Florida State University in the role of Sexual Health Educator, she earned a second MS degree, allowing her to transform her role into a Communications/Sexual Health Educator. In 2016, Anna joined our ACTG Network Emory University site in Atlanta, GA serving as a Health Educator where her main duties and focus are centered on recruiting study participants. She does this by being active in the local Atlanta HIV community and by providing health education, as well as information, about HIV in general.

“When recruiting for a study that is looking at reducing inflammation, for example, I work with the team at Emory to create and develop programs that help to explain inflammation and how it affects individuals living with HIV,” said Anna. “Our goal is to inform and educate all possible audiences, so this ranges from presenting at national conferences attended by healthcare providers all the way to intimate one-on -one discussions with potential volunteers in the clinic.”

What Anna enjoys most about her role is connecting and collaborating with the local HIV community and having the opportunity to speak with small groups about research being conducted at Emory. She has discovered that small group settings allow for powerful discussions because people feel open to be vulnerable and to ask questions that might seem obvious, but have never been answered for them previously.

“I have found that Emory University has a trusted and established reputation among the local HIV community and this provides us with a chance to collaborate and really come together to fight this epidemic,” said Anna.  “Also, the clinicians who work at Emory consistently impress me with not only their passion for HIV research, but their passion and compassion for those living with HIV – for example Dr. Carlos del Rio recently spoke with Pope Francis about how HIV/AIDS is a worldwide social justice issue that needs to be addressed. How impressive is that?”

Anna is not just passionate about her work within the ACTG Network; she is also passionate about a unique hobby – roller derby!  She has participated in roller derbies for the past four years, with this past year as a member of the Atlanta Rollergirls. She finds roller derby to be incredibly empowering and falls more and more in love with the sport with every hit she takes and every apex she jumps.

“As a Jammer for the Atlanta Rollergirls, I skate past the opposing team’s Blockers to score points and this requires quick thinking and teamwork,” said Anna. “In order to play our best, the team needs to listen to each other and to work as a collaborative unit to maximize everyone’s strengths.”

And it is collaboration that Anna utilizes to maximize her social media efforts for recruitment.  By partnering with other like-minded local groups, or individuals who have large, committed followings, she has found that messages go significantly further and sometimes even saturate other networks and organizations. She notes that being active on social media serves to expand the reach outside our walls and can assist in engaging with communities that are difficult to reach. It can also be a way to connect with younger people in the HIV community to educate and inform them about research.

Her colleagues appreciate her passion, commitment and dedication to her work as well.

“Anna is someone who is always enthusiastic and never gives up.  Knowing that she is a roller derby player probably explains why she is not afraid of challenges,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, Emory University Investigator and Ponce de Leon Center CRS Lead.

Anna’s message to clinicians across the ACTG Network again highlights collaboration:

“Clinicians need to not only be an advocate for their HIV communities, but also immerse themselves in the community and focus on collaboration. To do this, clinicians should consider being active on social media, showing up to community events, speaking out at public hearings when policy is being created, and most importantly – listen to your community.”

In closing, she wishes to thank the countless study participants who have taken part in ACTG Network trials over the past three decades:

“Without these strong and dedicated individuals taking part in ACTG Network clinical trials, there would be no advancement of medicine, no advancement of treatment and no advancement of prevention. We would be absolutely stagnant. This is why clinical trials mean so much to me. It is also really exciting to be a part of clinical trials as we are moving toward the cure agenda. I would love to say I was a part of research during the time they found a cure. The only way to do this is with the continued help and support of our thoughtful and giving study participants and those to come in the future. I thank them.”

Thank you, Anna. Keep up the hard work and keep on Jamming!