REPRIEVE Project Manager, Personal and Professional Passions Intersect

Aug 31, 2019

Katie Fitch, MSN, FNP, has been involved with the ACTG Network since 2014, but her connection to HIV/AIDS goes back over two decades.  Upon completing her undergraduate degree in International Studies and Spanish at the University of Washington, Katie worked at the 45th Street Community Clinic in Seattle and later at the Washington State Department of Public Health. While at the Washington State DPH, Katie was responsible for collecting HIV/AIDS surveillance data via face-to-face interviews. It was through these experiences that Katie came to understand firsthand the marginalization and stigmatization that people living with HIV/AIDS face daily. These experiences, coupled with her education, motivated her to become more informed regarding the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Latin America. To that end, Katie accepted a position with a small NGO, Educación Popular de Salud in Santiago, Chile. During this time, her main responsibility was working with lay healthcare workers in marginalized neighborhoods outside of Santiago to develop HIV prevention education strategies.

“From a young age I was exposed to a variety of cultures and I believe this laid the foundation for my work with vulnerable populations including individuals living with HIV/AIDS,” said Katie. “I have always been fascinated by the history, culture as well as contemporary politics of Latin America, so being able to help prevent the spread of HIV in that part of the world was quite fulfilling.”

When she returned to the US, Katie decided to pursue a Master of Science Degree in Nursing to become a Nurse Practitioner. She felt this degree would be the best way to fully develop her commitment to improve health for vulnerable populations. Through her different experiences, both domestic and abroad, Katie became a strong force in leading the way in HIV/AIDS patient education, as well as disease prevention, which she views as important foundations in the nursing profession.

In 1998, Katie was accepted into the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Institute of Health Professions that offered a direct entry to practice program. To support her graduate studies, she received a National Health Service Corps Scholarship that allowed her to work in medically underserved areas upon receiving her Nurse Practitioner license. After graduation, Katie worked with Boston Health Care for the Homeless providing primary care in several Boston area shelters as well as a medical respite setting. It was in this setting that Katie worked with many patients living with HIV who were noticing adverse effects from antiretroviral medications.  At the time, these adverse effects, such as body fat redistribution (lipodystrophy) and abnormal cholesterol levels, were not well recognized or understood. This led Katie to the Program in Nutritional Metabolism at MGH, where Dr. Steven Grinspoon, who is now one of the Co-Principal Investigators of REPRIEVE, was studying these conditions.

“I have worked with Katie since she came to MGH over a decade ago and I have found that she is one of the most dedicated healthcare professionals around,” said Dr. Grinspoon. “When I became a Principal Investigator for the REPRIEVE study, I knew Katie would be the ideal Project Manager for REPRIEVE due to her research background and innate abilities to coordinate and manage, which are essential for such a large and complex clinical trial. “

Katie enjoys being the Project Manager of REPRIEVE not just because the study will provide much needed data about cardiovascular disease prevention in HIV, but also because of the myriad of responsibilities involved with the job. From educating site staff and potential study participants to managing various components of site start-up, overall trial operations and problem solving are what she enjoys the most. Given the size of the study (currently 118 clinical sites and nearly 5000 participants), Katie notes that every single day is different. In addition, she has had the unique opportunity to promote REPRIEVE in the media by authoring several articles including “Stopping A Silent Killer” and “The REPRIEVE Trial: The Last Word on Cardiovascular Disease in HIV-positive Persons (Hopefully)”.

Outside of work, Katie enjoys spending time with her family, and taking part in a variety of outdoor activities such as camping, hiking and skiing. She is also an avid cyclist and braves the New England weather throughout the year on her commute to work. Katie and her family also love art and food, and they have been lucky enough to spend a lot of time during the summer in Italy, a place where both these interests are present in abundance. Katie is uniquely connected to the arts, being married to a professional artist and also due to the strong bond between the artist community and early HIV/AIDS activism.

“The arts and HIV/AIDS community have had a longstanding relationship; not only have we lost so many brilliant artists to the epidemic, but also art continues to offer a platform for activism for the greater HIV/AIDS community,” said Katie. “This activism and determination has been essential to bring HIV/AIDS prevention efforts and treatment where they are today. I am often amazed that we can say things like ‘over 50% of people living with HIV are over the age of 50’ or ‘people living with HIV have almost the same life expectancy as someone without HIV’.”

Katie believes prevention and treatment efforts are where they are at today because people living with HIV have gotten behind the illness and worked to improve care. They did this not only for themselves, but for so many other people affected by HIV— and she notes that their participation in clinical trials is evidence of this. With that in mind, one important goal Katie plans to achieve is to make sure that the HIV/AIDS community is aware of the findings from REPRIEVE. Planning and carrying out this effort is of the utmost importance to her.

In closing, Katie has an important message regarding the REPRIEVE trial:

“The HIV community critically needs strategies to prevent heart attacks and strokes, which are likely to be seen with increasing frequency as the HIV population ages worldwide. REPRIEVE is a major effort to fill a critical gap in the management of people living with HIV, and improve the health of the HIV population. On behalf of the REPRIEVE study team, please know that we greatly appreciate and need the support and contributions of both the ACTG Network and study participants to promote participation in this important trial.”