Nurse Finds Knack for Data

Sharon Kohrs, RN, has watched her career progress from an inpatient nurse to a research nurse to a data and quality assurance manager. One constant over the years has been the patient population she serves – people living with HIV.

“I am never bored with my work,” says Kohrs. “I have met the most amazing people over the years and have seen the disease progress to a manageable condition rather than one of fear. I have been able to experience the early years, when I worked on an inpatient HIV/AIDS unit, to now seeing people living everyday lives – having families, working and managing their disease. All these years later, I still see an amazing group of dedicated people working hard every day to fight HIV. They awe and inspire me.”

Kohrs has worked as a research nurse and data manager at the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) Network’s Cincinnati Clinical Research Site (CRS) for the past 22 years. From 1992 to 1996, she served as the site’s research nurse seeing clinical trial participants during study visits. Then in 1996, she was asked to review the site’s case report forms. Clinical studies use a series of case report forms to consistently collect data on everything from a patient’s vital signs to medical history.

“I seem to have a knack for it and initially quality assurance became about 25 percent of my work,” Kohrs says. “That quickly increased to about 50 percent of my work with an agreement that I would continue to follow the people I had on study, but not take on any new participants so that eventually I would be doing 100 percent quality assurance.”

Kohrs’ last group of study participants rolled off of study last year. These were people who volunteered for the ACTG’s ALLRT study. The trial began in 2000 as follow-up study for people living with HIV in the United States who were already enrolled in a parent ACTG study. The goal of the trial was to follow people living with HIV for an average of five years or longer after starting anti-HIV treatment to better understand the long-term effects of the virus and anti-HIV medications. Thanks to the rich database collected over the study's 13 years, investigators have made breakthroughs in immune recovery, inflammatory markers, opportunistic infections and cure research.

Tammy Miller, RN, is the Cincinnati CRS Coordinator. She attended nursing school with Kohrs. They immediately connected because they were “non-traditional” students in a very otherwise “traditional” class of bachelor of science in nursing degree students, most of them younger and unencumbered with family-rearing responsibilities. The two of them quickly realized they had both faced loss and grief in their lives, both at a very young age, so it took no time for a lifelong friendship to ensue. Kindred spirits, facing parenting, college and life issues together they soon realized another very important connection – they each had a deep passion for persons living with AIDS. From that point forward, their separate career paths move ahead, sometimes in parallel and sometimes intertwine, but always in the same direction – caring for persons with HIV/AIDS infection.

“What best sums up our relationship, both personal and professional, is a quote from the artist Brian Andreas ‘You’re the strangest person I met she said and I said you too and we decided we’d know each other a very long time,’” says Miller. “Always professional and deeply committed to the highest standards of quality, Sharon’s famous motto which will live in infamy is ‘If it’s not written down, it DIDN’T happen!!!’”    

Now fully engrossed in the data management role at the Cincinnati site, Kohrs begins each day checking data reports. She then pulls the schedules of upcoming study participants’ visits for each nurse. The rest of her day varies between chart reviews, keying data, participating in meetings and responding to any computer issues.

Carl Fichtenbaum, MD, is the Cincinnati CRS Leader. He calls Kohrs a roll-up-your- sleeves-jump-right-in-how-can-I-help-out type of person.

“Sharon is a very careful critical thinker. She is able to really tease out protocols and understand what we are supposed to do. She has developed a system of quality assurance that has helped us succeed over the past two decades within the ACTG.  Our nurses go to her often to ensure that they are doing things the right way.  Whenever I have a question about interpreting a protocol, I always recommend we go to Sharon for help.  She has developed relationships nationally within the ACTG and is very well respected,” Fichtenbaum says. “Sharon is an incredibly giving person. She always knows when people are struggling in their personal lives. She is very involved in her church. Sharon and her husband, David, work with younger couples and provide support to those in need.” 

With her roots in nursing, Kohrs often thinks of the people she used to treat on study. She would like to see future ACTG studies address the issues facing an aging population of people living with HIV.

“I’m always curious about our long-time HIV infected population,” she says.

When she is not ensuring the integrity of the data being collected at the Cincinnati site, Kohrs can be found hiking and camping with her family. Her favorite place to visit is Glacier National Park in Montana.