Premonition Becomes Reality

Jan 01, 1970

Burned out from years as an interpreter at a trauma center in eastern North Carolina, USA, Paul Camarena accepted a position as Director of Hispanic Outreach at the University of North Carolina General Clinical Research Center (UNC GCRC) in Chapel Hill. When investigators from the UNC AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) Network’s site conducted their study visits with Latino participants at the GCRC, Camarena, a Mexico native, would help them bridge the language gap.

“I thought the ACTG clinicians were different,” Camarena says. “They are brilliant and self-driven, but at the same time they are really fun and relaxed. I knew I would be working with them one day and here I am.”

Camarena made the switch to Patient Care Coordinator for the UNC ACTG site three years ago. Ensuring patients face no barrier to their appointments is a key part of his job. Camarena assists study volunteers with renewing their medication assistance, arranging transportation to study visits and interpreting during appointments.

“Being able to translate what our researchers, nurses and site staff are saying into our patients’ native language is so important,” Camarena says. “Being able to speak both English and Spanish, I try to do everything I can to help our study volunteers and staff have a successful visit. Their success is my success.”

Kristine Patterson, MD, an Investigator at the UNC site, says Camarena’s work ethic and personality make it easy for staff to collaborate with him and for study volunteers to connect with him.

“Paul has been a wonderful addition to our group. He has been instrumental in engaging the Latino population into research, but he is also invaluable in maintaining linkage to clinical care,” says Patterson. “Many participants maintain contact with Paul long after the study has ended knowing he is a valuable resource. While he is diligent in his work, there is also a fun-loving spirit in him and he brings that perspective to work with him everyday.”

Camarena also manages Health on Wheels, a mobile research clinic that allows ACTG staff at UNC to bring trials into the community and conduct study visits in the field. Started in 2010, the mobile clinic comes equipped with the tools needed to check patients’ vitals, draw labs and even perform an electrocardiogram (EKG). A research nurse coordinator and a research assistant/phlebotomist operate the mobile research clinic, seeing UNC study participants all over North Carolina.

“There’s no waiting, no traffic and no worrying about trying to find a place to park,” says Camarena of the benefits the mobile clinic offers patients versus traveling to the UNC campus. “Our participants love this because we show up where they need us. It’s a stress-free experience for them.”

On a lighter note, Camarena jokes that he is the UNC site’s self-appointed photographer, videographer and staff archivist. He admits he loves putting these talents to good use as a member of the unofficial UNC site’s party planning committee. His enthusiasm does not go unnoticed by his colleagues.

“Paul is just full of surprises!” says David Currin, RN, UNC’s Clinical Research Site Coordinator. “Not only is Paul a great team member and works really well with our study participants, but his creativity and craft at doing really cool audio visual projects is amazing! He has surprised many of our staff at special events and going away parties with unique ‘motion picture’ tributes. Everyone is aware that Paul may be filming at any time, so always be on your best behavior.”

In addition to his role at the ACTG’s UNC site, Camarena sits on the Network’s Outreach, Recruitment and Retention subcommittee. Since recruiting patients is a part of this job at UNC, he enjoys sharing best practices during the group’s monthly calls and annual session during the ACTG’s meeting in Washington, DC each summer.

“At my first meeting in DC two years ago, I met a good friend in the OR&R, Michael McDonald from the ACTG site in Ohio,” Camarena says. “He and I took over the Library of Recruitment Materials. Sadly, Michael passed away soon after that and I’ve helped keep the library going. The library serves as a repository of useful recruitment tools (i.e. flyers, brochures, handouts) that the Network is encouraged to access. As my time in the OR&R begins to wind down, I will now pass on the torch.  Moving forward, I’m hoping to join the ACTG’s Underrepresented Populations Committee (UPC). It sounds like an interesting group to be a part of.”

When he is not coordinating patient care, interpreting during study visits and scheduling the mobile research clinic, Camarena enjoys playing volleyball and paddle boarding at a lake near his home. He and his wife make it a point to take one big trip a year. Their favorite destinations include the Hawaiian Islands and Disney cruises to the Caribbean.

“Each December, we take off,” says Camarena with a laugh. “When it starts getting cold here is when we plan our escape.”

Click here to learn more about the ACTG’s site at UNC.