Featuring: Mary Nagy, MPH, RN/BSN, Public Health Detailer, HIV Care & Prevention Unit, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, NaRCAD Training Alumnus
NaRCAD: Thanks for joining us, Mary! You’re a Public Health Detailer in the HIV Care & Prevention Unit at the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services. Before we talk about how you got into your current role, can you tell us what you were doing before that?
Mary Nagy: I was an ER nurse for five years. During that time I worked all over the country in lots of different settings, but I noticed the same patterns playing out no matter what city I was in. I was seeing patients daily who were either in the last hours of their lives or needing immediate life-saving interventions as a result of medical problems that might have been avoided entirely through basic services or preventative medicine. The longer I worked ER, the more clearly I saw the effect of systemic forces and environment on health, their unequal distribution across society, and the more I wanted to find a way to work towards health equity.
I decided to study public health, and earned my master’s degree in Environmental Health Science at the University of Michigan. In addition to giving me the opportunity to design and carry out my own research, the program I did had a strong health policy component, which helped me add to the understanding of healthcare delivery I formed during the time I spent at the bedside.
NaRCAD: Tell us what interested you about your current position and what a “day in the life” of a detailer looks like for you.
Mary Nagy: I saw the job posted and was immediately interested in it because I think detailing, especially on the topic of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), is a really effective way to strengthen prevention infrastructure and affect health outcomes. Clinicians are under a lot of pressure and I was drawn to the idea of being a source of relevant, high quality, trusted information.
The detailing program here in Michigan is comparatively young and its development is ongoing. Fortunately for me, lots of folks have been willing to help! I've drawn from a broad range of sources has been really helpful during detailing visits, because the needs of providers are so diverse; folks are asking about billing and coding for PrEP visits, standing orders, HIV risk assessment, nuts and bolts of services offered by our state lab, STI screening and trends, and financial supports for PrEP, best practices with PrEP initiation and follow up, and more. I’ve been working hard to broaden my knowledge base, but also to identify resources for questions I don’t know the answers to and topics I’m weaker on.
NaRCAD: Why are you passionate about HIV prevention, and why is academic detailing for HIV prevention so important?
Mary Nagy: Even though I’m very new to the field, I think it’s a very exciting time to be doing this work because I do believe it is possible to end the HIV epidemic in the US within the next few decades. Racial and ethnic minorities continue to be underrepresented in PrEP utilization and overrepresented in new HIV diagnoses, and I want my work to contribute to correcting this. I think PrEP can be a tool for health justice and being part of that is valuable to me.
NaRCAD: You’ve mentioned environment a couple of times. Can you tell us how environment is connected to HIV contraction and prevention, if at all?
Mary Nagy: I think that’s where my mind goes, because I’ve seen the powerful effect of environment on health, and this is certainly true on a population level. I never want to diminish the power and agency of individuals, but everyone operates under multiple layers of forces. Examples of this include policy, especially the persistent legacy of overtly racist housing policies; the “war on drugs” and resulting mass incarceration; or a justice system that data shows us doesn’t work in the same ways for everyone.
These systemic forces, applied to millions of people over many decades, result in the disparities we see in HIV rates, overall health, wealth, and many other areas. Increasing access to PrEP means we can mitigate some risk for folks who might have more exposure due to the environmental context in which they live.
For Michigan, one of the ways detailing can help make PrEP easier to access is increasing geographic availability. A large portion of our state is rural, and many counties do not currently have a known PrEP provider. Another challenge is, of course, cost. The cost of PrEP and associated visits and screening tests is a policy issue, and while we hope and expect to see cost come down in the future, in the current landscape, it's important to prioritize educating providers and their staff on available financial supports and how to apply them, so cost doesn’t keep people who can benefit from PrEP from getting and maintaining access.
NaRCAD: In addition to geography and coverage, what are some other barriers you’ve encountered when doing academic detailing for HIV prevention?
Mary Nagy: Stigma around HIV and other STIs is a big issue. We know that when providers talk openly with patients about their sexual health, they’re better able to accurately assess risk for HIV and STIs and screen and treat appropriately, but those conversations are not happening with enough regularity. Rates of STIs like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis have been rising, and continue to increase, so there's a lot of opportunity there.
NaRCAD: How has detailing been received overall? Are providers open to education on PrEP?
When I think about why detailing is important and why I’m doing it, the first thing that comes to mind is a recent survey of primary care providers MDHHS carried out in Southeast Michigan. Providers were asked which supports would best help them to incorporate PrEP into their practice, and "education" was by far the most frequent answer. In addition to the research I’ve seen indicating detailing is an effective intervention to change provider behavior, it's clear that the providers themselves agree that education is important. If we can work with providers to make PrEP available and easy to initiate and maintain, the protection it offers from HIV can improve health outcomes for patients at high risk.
Mary Nagy, MPH, RN/BSN
Public Health Detailer, HIV Care & Prevention Unit
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services
Mary is the public health detailer for the State of Michigan and conducts direct outreach with medical providers to support HIV prevention strategies and stigma reduction statewide. She received her master’s degree in Environmental Health Science from the University of Michigan School of Public Health where as a Graham Sustainability Fellow her research focused on municipal water quality and affordability. Mary also has several years of experience working in as an Emergency Department RN in trauma centers across the US and her work in health equity is informed by her time as a frontline health worker.
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