Helping more people take charge and know their HIV status is the aim of National HIV Testing Day, June 27. It’s also the goal of Bing Wu, a volunteer HIV/STI counselor at Magnet, San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s health and community center in the Castro.
An economist by day, Bing works Magnet’s evening shifts, taking samples to test for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like gonorrhea and chlamydia while clients’ HIV tests are run. And, he explains, “I ask about what they’re doing in terms of practicing safer sex, what their risk factors are for HIV, and ways they can help prevent HIV and STI infections.”
It’s also Bing’s job to tell clients what their HIV test results are.
“When someone tests positive, regardless of whether they knew they were at high risk for getting HIV, it's overwhelming news,” he says. “Some people look shell-shocked. They ask questions that reflect thoughts and worries about how this affects their job, their relationships, their sex life, their health. It changes their life.”
“Our job at that point is to help reassure them that life goes on, and help them figure out the first steps,” he adds. Those steps involve connecting right away with medical care, treatment, and mental health resources.
Bing sees volunteering at Magnet as a chance to give back to his community and use his knack for making something scary and overwhelming feel more manageable—a skill he honed as an economics tutor during his college years. “I really enjoyed demystifying economics, because for a lot of people, it’s a very intimidating subject,” he recalls. “I really liked making it easier for them.”
Today, he finds it rewarding applying the same skills to his role at Magnet: “I get to work with gay men in a very interactive way and guide them through the process of getting an HIV test. And it’s an opportunity to be empathetic in a way that I don’t get to be in my day job.”
Career change is coming, though: Bing is pursuing a medical career and plans to work as either a primary care physician or a psychiatrist. “I’d love to have a practice where I can work with gay men and help people manage HIV, and have another side to the practice that’s not purely medical—you know, ‘Here’s your problem, here’s the drug you need to take’—but also involves talking with them about their lives and helping them get to a place where they are happier and more comfortable with themselves,” he explains.
Playing a role in gay men’s whole-person health is one reason why he looks forward to his volunteer shifts. “There’s the medical side of things, where we do the HIV and STI tests and talk about HIV risk factors, but we’re also helping men realize that while their risk factors for HIV depend on what they’re doing in their sex lives, what they’re doing in their sex lives has a lot to do with their mental health,” Bing says. “Everything comes together at Magnet.”
It’s not surprising that his volunteer work is shaping his future career plans, but Bing has found some unexpected rewards, as well: “It’s a great way to give back to the community, and it’s a great way to learn about the medical side of things, but I’ve also learned a lot about myself, and about gay men and gay culture, through volunteering here. I love the people I meet at Magnet.”
Have you seen Magnet’s impact in our community? Give the volunteers and staff a word of encouragement in the comments below! Interested in volunteering your own time and skills? Visit www.magnetsf.org to learn about current volunteer opportunities.
The best way to fight HIV is to know your status. A simple test can determine if you are infected with the virus.
Our diverse programs help thousands of people every year. From testing to prevention to care, our services assist communities where need is greatest.