Insights & Misconceptions: A Discussion on HIV/AIDS with Jonas Scholar Dennis Flores

June 27th is National HIV Testing Day. With 1.2 million people in the United States living with HIV, and 45,000 new cases identified in the US every year, HIV care, awareness, and prevention remain highly relevant topics for healthcare professionals. We connected with Jonas Scholar and PhD Student Dennis Flores, MSN, ACRN, to discuss his work in HIV/AIDS research and his role as a Jonas Scholar in this community.  

Mr. Flores is a PhD candidate at Duke University. His main area of focus is HIV risk reduction among gay adolescent males.

What are the most common misconceptions about HIV you’ve come across as an HIV researcher and nurse?

Sadly a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS still carries with it some level of value or judgment that is not helpful in our prevention or care efforts – even within nursing. While HIV infection happens to an individual, there are a multitude of external factors that predisposed that infection. As a nurse researcher, it has been my goal in the last few years to identify these factors beyond the individual level that result in HIV infection. We have a lot of work to do as a practice discipline to critically address these predisposing factors in the environment.

How can nursing contribute to raising awareness about HIV research and testing?

The simple act of broaching with community members the touchy issue of sex is an invitation to make the seemingly taboo less oppressive. Removing shame and value judgments to a very integral and human facet of our daily lives, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, normalizes discussions about sex. These honest conversations will hopefully trickle to health maintenance behaviors such as HIV testing and call attention to the greater need for research on HIV prevention.

How has being a Jonas Scholar impacted your research into HIV and AIDS?

HIV/AIDS research entails fostering trust with other researchers and the individuals and communities we work with. In the four years since I first became a Jonas Scholar, I have received excellent education on how it is to be an independent and credible HIV/AIDS researcher. The Jonas Scholarship has afforded me that essential training. As a result, I am defending my dissertation on June 29th, which explored how gay, bisexual, and queer adolescent males are socialized as sexual beings by their heterosexual parents. Specifically, I have investigated how sex communication occurs between parents and the next generation of men who will have sex with men.

Also, being a Jonas Scholar has made me situate my work within a dynamic community of dedicated nurse researchers who tackle an assortment of health issues. I take inspiration from the amazing work of my fellow Jonas Scholars and reassure myself that I’m in good company whenever the challenges of research arise. I have over 1000 Jonas colleagues who are dedicated to improving patient and community outcomes in our little corners of the country. This fact alone inspires me to no end.

What inspired you to study HIV/AIDS?  

As a gay man I owe it to the generations of LGBTQ people who came before me to continue this fight against HIV/AIDS. In a way, the struggles in the first years of the epidemic resulted in the introduction of LGBTQ peoples’ humanity to the rest of America. This chapter in our history mobilized a movement, which has directly resulted in our long-fought LGBTQ rights. Our victories have not come without a price though and much work needs to be done. We need all hands on deck. My work in HIV prevention is my own personal commitment to the goal that tomorrow’s next generation of LGBTQ people won’t be burdened by the threat of HIV infection just by virtue of who they are and who they love.