In this Q&A, we learn more about our candidate for the Austin American-Statesman’s Recognizing Nurses competition, Steve Paris.
Texas Health Action (THA): Welcome, Steve! Let’s start by learning a bit about you…
Steve: Here are three mostly unrelated things about me:
1.) I’m a native Texan and grew up in Corpus Christi. Every summer I spent some time in Elgin with my grandparents and we also visited Austin frequently. I was excited to move to Austin for college and really never left until I moved to San Francisco. I think of Austin and San Francisco as the places I feel most at home. The vibrancy, freedom, acceptance of both cities seems familiar – even though they are very, very different cities. I remember hearing about ‘gay nuns’ on the news when I was maybe 9 or 10 years old and never forgot the words: “The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.” When I met my first Sister at gay bar on Folsom Street 25 years ago was so delighted. I just get giddy every time I encounter them and appreciate so much of what they give back in their service. That childhood memory just seems so prescient of the kinds of things I’ve encountered in my life.
2.) My hair is naturally pretty curly, grows fast, and does not mix well with our humidity. It is the longest it has been in many years because of our social-distancing shutdown- and it’s only been 4 weeks since my last cut. It’s fun to get compared to Bob Ross on our video conferences. I used to be super self-conscious about it but now I’m just glad it’s all still there at 49!
3.) I have been to Burning Man five times and had plans to return this year. Maybe next year. #ThanksCorona
THA: How did you get started in the health care field?
Steve: Both of my parents are in the medical field and my grandmother was a Registered Nurse who worked in public health for the state. She worked in syphilis treatment and surveillance for a time in the 1930’s and 40’s and I find that to be a super interesting parallel to the work I do now. I grew up hearing lots and lots of “what happened at work today in the ER” conversations from my parents and I’m sure that desensitized me to a lot of the things I see and do now that would squick most people out.
Healthcare and nursing wasn’t my first career choice, but I re-evaluated my work life when I turned 40 and nursing was the path I chose. I get that I had a lot of privilege that allowed me to change careers at a late state and I am grateful for that opportunity. It was a true gift.
There were definitely some poor healthcare experiences that illuminated spaces where I knew I could provide better care. One of those was seeking care as a young gay man just coming out and I either felt shamed or my concerns ignored. I can handle being shamed but not ignored. I knew I could do better and found the right people to do that with here at Texas Health Action’s Kind Clinic.
THA: How has your Kind Clinic journey been so far?
Steve: This organization is always in a state of evolution and I think that is exciting. I started volunteering pretty early on in the lab when it was called Austin PrEP Access Project (APAP). My friend Clyde introduced me to APAP when I was looking to volunteer as a nurse. Then I did some of my Nurse Practitioner training at Kind Clinic. It’s surreal and inspiring what this organization has become and the impact we are having on the communities we serve.
I’ve been here almost a year as a provider. We are doing things here that just a handful of other organizations are even attempting in the United States and it feels great to see how well we are doing it. It feels like we have this rainbow inertia to ensure the LGBTQIA+ community gets the care we all need and deserve. Having worked at some tech start-ups, this feels similar. Like, “This doesn’t exist, and we need it. Let’s create it!” I love that feeling and am elated to be a part of it.
THA: What would you say is the most rewarding part of being a Nurse Practitioner?
Steve: Ensuring my patients feel seen, heard, and well-cared-for at our clinic is incredibly rewarding. I also work with some truly amazing people at every level in the organization that are passionate about the work we do – that creates real magic! When I tell people about the work we are doing, the universal reaction seems to be, “OMG, we love y’all!” How great is that?
THA: What are your favorite things to do to de-stress in your down time?
Steve: Gardening and cooking are two things, I find, create a sense of equanimity and stillness that aren’t typically available to me. And, I get pretty excited when I can create a meal to share with family and friends from things that we grew in our shared garden. That social experience is something I find valuable.
I’m also a big fan of healthy sex for de-stressing. The flood of endorphins you get from intimate contact with yourself and others is nature’s gift to us. I also try to be outside as much as possible – swimming at Barton Springs, kayaking and tubing our amazing rivers, ski trips, backpacking, and road trips are all great.
THA: What do you foresee for LGBTQIA+ health care in the next decade? Are there any new innovations that excite you?
Steve: People in LGBTQIA+ communities are experts at creating safe spaces for themselves when the rest of society either can’t, or won’t, create affirming and safe spaces for people to be themselves. We create safe and affirming healthcare experiences for people regardless of their ability to pay or insurance status using unique funding models that are sustainable. I see organizations in other states and cities doing similar things and I find that exciting.
The great thing is that people that don’t identify as LGBTQIA+ are seeing what we are offering and making appointments and returning! It’s not only because it is at little or no cost to them. They feel seen, heard, and respected. Respect is everything.
Four weeks ago, I would have said I’m very excited about long term injectable and implants to deliver PrEP medications and I still am. These will be game changing for HIV prevention globally if we have universal access. But, right now, living in the time of COVID-19, I see the telehealth revolution mandating innovation that will create some great opportunities to serve people anywhere in Texas. We’ve been doing TeleKind visits for our patients for quite a while but now every patient has a TeleKind visit first. Honestly, one of the hardest parts of healthcare is getting people through the front door. For someone not to have to take time off work to be able to speak to a healthcare provider will open access to care to so many. The future is happening right now and it’s really cool.
THA: Thank you, Steve, for your time answering our questions and for your dedication to providing the best in sexual healthcare through Kind Clinic!