Jay Dwyer’s career with the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) Network can be summed up in one word – chameleon. Since joining the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) site 11 years ago, Dwyer has worked as an administrator, data manager, nurse and, currently, the site’s study coordinator.
“It’s hard for me to pick which job I’ve enjoyed the most because I really like everything I have done at UCSF,” Dwyer says.
When the dot com bubble burst in the San Francisco area in the late 1990s, job openings were hard to come by. Dwyer sent out 347 applications, went on 33 interviews and finally landed a temporary administrator job at the ACTG’s UCSF site in 2002. One of his first tasks was to resolve an accounting error with a vendor. He fixed the problem and ended up saving the site $15,000.
“That made me feel very good about myself,” he recalls.
As he moved into a full time position at UCSF and into data management at the site, he found this role satisfied his love of solving complex data problems. “I love explaining those problems, so hopefully others can see the logic of the error and the logic of the solution,” Dwyer says. “That way I won’t be the only one solving those problems in the future.”
The study coordinator at UCSF at this time was Michele Downing. She became a mentor to Dwyer and encouraged him to pursue a career in nursing. Dwyer left the site to attend nursing school and upon graduation originally worked on a hematology/oncology floor at UCSF caring for bone marrow transplant patients. Downing then recruited him back to the ACTG site at UCSF as a research nurse.
“In nursing, I love being on the front lines and monitoring health and health outcomes, recognizing subtle changes in health and helping people return to stable outcomes,” Dywer says.
Downing ended up leaving the site, and Dwyer was promoted to the study coordinator position. Annie Luetkemeyer, MD, is an investigator at the UCSF site. She calls Dwyer a “superstar.”
“Jay is an incredible patient advocate and is truly committed to the mission of making life better for HIV patients through cutting edge research,” Luetkemeyer says. “Jay manages to take on the many duties of coordinating our unit with poise, enthusiasm and good humor.”
Dwyer spends his mornings seeing patients for scheduled study visits and dialing into study committee conference calls. In the afternoons, he tackles a host of tasks ranging from transcribing data to reviewing budgets to evaluating contracts. But the outreach component of being a study coordinator and working closely with the UCSF Community Advisory Board (CAB) is what he enjoys the most.
“The most fun I have had on the job is working with the people in the community – conducting outreach, providing formal and informal presentations, working with our Community Advisory Board,” says Dwyer. “I love the patient education part of the study visits I share with our volunteers. I learn so much by working with the community, but I also feel like I am doing my part for the community support in return. It’s literally the part I think of when someone asks, ‘what kind of work do you do?’”
His passion for community outreach coupled with his willingness to take on any role asked of him is why Dwyer was nominated and presented with the Donna Davis Community Award during the ACTG’s annual meeting in July 2013. The Donna Davis Award is given by the ACTG’s CAB to a staff member who has made an outstanding contribution to mentorship, education and engaging broader community participation. When the announcement was made, Dwyer was stunned and humbled.
“I was floored. I did not expect it. And what’s more, I can’t believe my CAB and site leader put this together without me knowing it,” he says. “But I just don’t feel like I ‘won’ an award. I have met so many members of the community over the last decade. I have had heavy conversations with many of them and also not so heavy ones. I have learned from every encounter. I have grown as a community member, as a nurse and as a person. Receiving the Donna Davis Award feels less like winning and something more like an official welcome to be part of a group of respected and amazing people.”
Upon moving to the Bay area, Derrick Mapp joined the UCSF site’s CAB and met Dwyer. He calls Dwyer an “inspiration.”
“I have known him as an involved community member and community leader,” Mapp says. “It was a natural progression when Jay joined the AIDS Clinical Trial Unit (ACTU) staff at UCSF. And a pleasant surprise when he announced his intention to enter nursing and stay with the unit. His institutional history throughout his roles with the UCSF ACTU CAB/CTU makes him invaluable to us. His authenticity, perseverance and humor encourage and attract some of the best in our community.”
When asked which ACTG study has been the most rewarding trial to work on, Dwyer says choosing just one is as difficult as picking between cake or ice cream.
“My first protocol was A5295. This study used rapid testing to identify tuberculosis-rifampin resistance. I knew very little about tuberculosis before this study and it was great way to learn more about one of the major issues affecting HIV positive individuals worldwide,” Dwyer says. “And as someone who has seen my brown beard turn almost completely white during my association with the ACTG, I am also very excited to be working on the new HIV and aging study (HAILO) and its little sister substudy (FIT).”
In addition to aging and HIV, Dwyer hopes the ACTG’s future scientific agenda will yield a cure.
“After working for the Network for so long and seeing such progress, I know we are living in a much different environment today,” he says. “But managing HIV infection with less toxic medications is not the same as living free of HIV. While I think all of the HIV research agenda is important, my hope is that the ACTG will learn the final secrets of HIV and how to kick its butt once and for all.”