Kelly Johnson, MD, MPH, Takes on Leadership Role as CAPTC’s Medical Director

Kelly Johnson Headshot

We are excited to introduce Kelly Johnson, MD, MPH, the new clinical director of the CAPTC, who accepted the position after the tenure of Ina Park, MD, CAPTC’s principal investigator (PI). The clinical program of the CAPTC supports healthcare providers through virtual and in person trainings, technical assistance, and STI consultation. We sat down with Dr. Johnson to talk about her public health journey, interest in sexual health, and goals for the clinical program.

Dr. Kelly Johnson’s journey began in her home state of Virginia as a volunteer for the Virginia Health Department, where she created presentations on sexual health to share with young people who were sexually active. After attending college, she worked for the federal government for a few years in health policy and emergency care before deciding to attend a combined MD/MPH program where she discovered her love for microbiology and researching infectious diseases. She came to UCSF for her fellowships and residency following medical school. As she conducted research into sexual health, her interest in the field grew, eventually inspiring her to pursue fellowships in infectious diseases and STIs.

In addition to her position as the clinical director of CAPTC, she is an inpatient Infectious Diseases consultant at UCSF and a medical officer for the California Department of Public Health STD Contol Branch. She is a subject matter expert for the warmline operated by the National Network of STD Clinical Prevention Training Centers, where she provides clinical consultation on complex cases in STI patient care. Her current focus is on the management of congenital syphilis among other topics.

Why are you interested in sexual health?

It gets back to what it was about microbiology and infectious diseases that I liked so much. You have an individual patient, they have a particular infection, and so you help them get them treated. But it’s also a population issue because these are transmissible infections. You’re dealing with these networks of people and asking questions such as “How do you communicate with people? How do you get people in care in a way that is non-stigmatizing and encourages them to come back? How do you talk to patients in a way that’s not judgmental? How do you get them to talk to their partners?” It ties in a lot of my interests, like individual care, population health, language, and communications. Sexual health really felt like the right place for me in the end, and there’s a lot of research and great people in this field.

What are your goals for the clinical program?

Overall, we want to continue to provide high quality provider education and training in the sexual healthcare field. We’re hoping to incorporate a mix of the basics of sexual health, common diagnoses, and treatments — things we always cover — and we’re hoping to start to bring back in-person events and more of a focus on emerging data and science.

I’ll give you an example. We have recent data on the success of doxycycline as an antibiotic that patients could take after they have sex as a post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent them from getting things like syphilis, chlamydia, or gonorrhea. This is new, potentially practice-changing science, and we are getting so many questions and requests for training on this. Having to create new content, really going into the science, and being able to speak to it — I’m proud of us for being able to do that, and I would like us to continue to be the team that people come to for supporting people on the ground dealing both with the basics of sexual health care and helping providers be aware of what’s new.

What is something you would change about the way that clinicians are trained in sexual health?

I wish there were more opportunities to include sexual health in the medical education system. Reflecting on my own medical training, I went to a program that was very community-oriented and very clinical, but it’s not like we had a dedicated sexual health curriculum or rotation. It’s just a function of med schools: a relatively short time, a lot to cover material-wise, and sometimes sexual health is not one of the top priorities.

Talking openly about sexual health and sexual practices is not easy for providers and patients in all scenarios, so I think the more training that providers can have around having those conversations in a way that’s non-judgmental, non-stigmatizing, and culturally competent is so important, and I would love to see that incorporated more in early medical education.

Reflecting on your career, what is something you’re proud of?

I am proud of the clinical work that I’ve done because I feel that that takes my maximal effort. When I’m doing my clinical work, I am really dedicated and detail-oriented. I try to put my all into caring for patients: being as thorough as possible in taking their histories, examining them, looking up the data, and coming up with the treatment plan. I am fortunate to have the privilege to take care of people.

My career has played out in a way that I didn’t anticipate. I am proud of how things have been able to work out. Some of it’s hard work, and a lot of it’s just being in the right place at the right time, but I’m happy that I’ve been given these opportunities. I feel like the clinical team is in a good position, and we have a lot of work going on. We have a lot of growing that we still get to do, so I’m proud of what we’ve done, and I’m excited for where we’re headed next.

CAPTC’s Clinical Team. Top row from left to right: Sharon Adler, MD, MPH; Elizabeth Olson, MPH; Lauren Blakley, MA, MLIS; Rosalyn Plotzker, MD, MPH. Bottom row from left to right: Ina Park, MD, MS; Kelly Johnson, MD.

STI Expert Hour Webinar on Doxycycline Post-Exposure Prophylaxis

Friday, April 28, 2023, 12:45PM-2:00PM (PDT)
Learn about doxycycline post-exposure prophylaxis (doxyPEP), the newest innovation in the world of biomedical approaches to preventing sexually transmitted infections.Presentation by Stephanie Cohen, MD, MPH, Medical Director, San Francisco City Clinic & Director, STI Prevention and Control Section, San Francisco Department of Public Health
1.25 CME units at no cost.

Learning Objectives

  • Summarize data from recent studies exploring the use of doxyPEP to prevent bacterial STIs
  • Explore potential implications of and strategies for doxyPEP implementation in clinical settings

Please note: CME units not available for viewing the recording of the webinar.

Syphilis Treatment Intervals in Non-Pregnant Patients: A Clinical Resource for Providers

What are appropriate treatment intervals for late latent syphilis or syphilis of unknown duration in non-pregnant people?

Prepared by the STD Control Branch, California Department of Public Health and California Prevention Training Center. Revised February 2023.

3d illustration of a syphilis pathogen

CAPTC’s COVID-19 Response in Review

Courses Delivered: 81 Case Investigation, 76 Contact Tracing, 23 Best Practices for Team Leads, 87 Learning Collaboratives

As our communities continue to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis, Denise Tafoya, Program Manager of the California Prevention Training Center’s Disease Intervention Specialist training program, provides an update on the impact of CAPTC’s contact tracing and case investigation efforts as they respond to the needs of the public health crisis.

As a skills-based training center, the CAPTC offered three foundational COVID-19 courses at the beginning of the pandemic. Tafoya says that long-standing expertise and training capacity of Disease Intervention Specialists (DIS) at CAPTC was essential to responding to requests from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and later the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to expand trainings to a national scale.

The CAPTC participated in a partnership, the Virtual Training Academy +, which offered training in case investigation and contact tracing for California employees that were redirected to pandemic response. “While the curriculum expanded, we needed to enhance our approach to support the influx of volunteers who were hired by local and state programs and often had little-to-no public health background,” says Tafoya.

Chart of number of course completions showing Learning Collaboratives with just under 3000 completions.As a member of the National Network of Disease Intervention Training Centers (NNDITC), CAPTC developed curricula and delivered case investigation, contact tracing, and team leadership courses nationwide. CAPTC also introduced 13 Learning Collaboratives that complimented the NNDITC’s foundational Covid courses and directly addressed issues that case investigators (CI) and contact tracers (CT) encountered when interfacing with the public.

People contacted by these workers often expressed discomfort in disclosing their personal information as they were uncertain what it would be used for. As CI and CT received a general push-back concerning issues of medical mistrust, Tafoya says that her experience and that other DIS professionals seasoned in prevention of other communicable diseases were essential in shifting their approach.

With a background in DIS work, she and her team were able to help adapt training to respond to the concerns of those who had never done this work for populations in both urban and rural settings.

“The ability to quickly distill the information and develop course material that was digestible to a widening range of people, was highly dependent on our ability to listen to the concerns expressed to the contact tracers and case investigators, and by them as well,” says Tafoya.

Keeping watch on developing reports by the CDC, providing federal agencies with model interviews and practice to boost CI and CT confidence in speaking to the public, and using intuition were all pivotal to the success of the CAPTC’s Covid training programs.

As more agencies and individuals are becoming more familiar with the work of CI and CT, CAPTC’s Learning Collaboratives continue to be in high demand and support the ability to build that capacity for training in California and nationwide.

“The country looks to California because we go forward, dive in first, do the best we can, and usually that’s the model for the rest of the country,” she said.

The CAPTC looks to repurpose the tools and skills they gained from this time to inform future offerings and course work. Tafoya explains her gratitude to people who were redirected from the jobs they signed up for to embrace the opportunity to help their state, their local program, and their country, to get this situation under control.

“Considering that we were flying the plane while we were building it, we built a lot more capacity and public health is no longer invisible. This is what a public health person waits for in their career: to shut something like that down or to quickly respond to it.”

As newly trained staff and volunteers turn to STI disease intervention, skills sets learned from CAPTC trainings equips them to respond to STIs and the next new communicable disease.

Foundational Courses:
  • Case Investigation (CI)
  • Contact Tracing (CT)
  • Best Practices for Team Leads (TL)
Leaner’s Learning Collaboratives (LLCs):
  • Collecting Sensitive Demographic Information
  • Breakthrough Infections
  • Complicated Q and I Scenarios
  • Keeping Current with Changing Information
  • Medical Mistrust
  • Promoting Vaccine Equity
  • School Guidelines
  • Self-Care and Minimizing Burnout
  • Skills and Techniques to Address Challenging Situations
  • Special Presentation on Medical Mistrust and COVID-19
  • The Latest On COVID-19 Treatment Options (video)
  • Tools and Techniques to Motivate Change
  • Trauma Informed Approach
  • Update on Variants
  • Vaccine Messaging and FAQs
  • Virus Variants