Dr. Darren L. Whitfield, a protocol team member for HPTN 096, member of the HPTN Black Caucus, and 2018-2019 Domestic Scholar is an associate professor of social work at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. His primary research focuses on understanding the impact of psychosocial and structural factors on health and mental health outcomes among Black men who have sex with men (MSM), Black transgender women, and LGBTQ communities. He has extensive experience conducting research with young Black MSM regarding psychosocial factors of PrEP adherence, including examining the role of internalized stigma on PrEP use among Black MSM in the United States, correlates of sexually transmitted infections among Black MSM, the influence of risk compensation on PrEP adherence among Black MSM, and the importance of autonomy in PrEP adherence.
What attracted you to a career in HIV prevention research?
I started doing HIV prevention research after spending years as a social worker conducting HIV prevention and care interventions with MSM, mostly Black MSM. During those days, I felt the interventions and options we were recommending were unrealistic and didn’t fit into the lives of the men I was working with. I knew the only way to change things was to go back to school, finish my Ph.D., develop interventions, and write about what was happening for men and how we can create realistic interventions and tools that get to the heart of the disparities we see among Black and LGBTQ communities.
What would you say most motivates you to do what you do?
I am motivated by the communities I belong to. I am inspired by Black people, gay men, and transgender women. I am motivated to be part of the scientists who do research that genuinely impacts the lives of these groups for the better and understands that people deserve better. Whenever I see a young Black gay kid, I smile and am reminded of what we must do.
Who has been the most significant influence in your career? Why?
The most significant influences on my career are Dr. Kathryn McKinley, a wise retired social work professor who introduced me to social work; Dr. Eugene Walls, my dissertation chair and mentor who helped me get through my Ph.D. program; and Drs. LaRon Nelson, Darrell Wheeler, Sheldon Fields, and Dexter Voisin continue to support and mentor me as an academic, paving the way for others like us to do the work needed to change the epidemic.
What advice do you have for new HPTN members?
I would tell anyone new to the HPTN to speak up, ask questions, and get involved. I remain connected to the HPTN because I spoke up as a Scholar and volunteered to be on projects. I continue to ask questions about the science of HIV prevention.
What is your guilty pleasure?
My guilty pleasure is baking. I love baking cakes, cookies, pies, and scones. When I need to unwind, I start baking.