Keeping My Community In Mind

I am excitedly approaching my third year of being a part of the Whitman-Walker Health family. I started my time here in 2015 as the coordinator for the Peer Support Program, which is a volunteer program that provides individual and group counseling to LGBTQIA people and people who are living with HIV. One of my main roles in that job was to listen – to hear people’s stories – and to help match them with a counselor or group of people who had similar experiences. While I learned a lot during my two years with Peer Support, I wanted an opportunity to use my degree in biology. Just under one year ago, I got the chance to do that by joining the research team at Whitman-Walker as a Research Specialist.

In my role as a Research Specialist, I work mainly on studies for the AIDS Clinical Trials Group, otherwise known as the ACTG. Started in 1987, the ACTG operates under the National Institutes of Health to do research into HIV/AIDS across the world. As a research specialist, I get to work directly with the people participating in ACTG studies, doing things like taking height and weight measurements and drawing blood samples. While all of the studies I work on are valuable, the one that has made the biggest impact on me has been one about HIV and memory.

This study, called INMIND, is working to research issues with memory loss and concentration, and how they are related to HIV. We know from other research that some people with HIV experience problems with thinking and memory that can’t be explained by other issues. With the INMIND study, we are looking to see if specific types of HIV medication can help stop or even reverse those issues. While the science behind this study is interesting and important, I still find that what impacts me the most is being able to hear people’s stories.

When I come into work, the thing that I most look forward to is being able to see and interact with our study participants. I love the moments that I get to hear how they are doing and listen to their life experiences. By working at Whitman-Walker, I have been able to learn so much about the history of HIV and the people who lived through that history. As a gay man, listening to these experiences has brought me closer to my community. It’s given me a greater appreciation for the work of those who came before me.

Through research, I have found a way to give back to the LGBTQIA community through science that is fun and challenging. My goal is to help preserve my community’s history and to help it grow stronger, while doing research that helps save and improve people’s lives. I’ve learned that as a researcher, my job is not just the science. It is also to help carry the stories I hear to future generations, so that these narratives live on.

David Klein, Research Specialist