AJ Winingham, a member of the HPTN 083 Community Working Group, is a community outreach coordinator in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. AJ completed an Associates of Arts Degree at St. Louis Community College in 2017 and is currently working towards a Bachelor of Science degree in Integrated Studies with certificates in business and clinical research management at Washington University. One of AJ’s proudest achievements is being a first-generation college student.
What attracted you to a career in HIV prevention research?
As a member of the LGBTQIA+ Community, HIV has been part of my world for as long as I can remember. When I was young, I felt helpless and powerless – like there was nothing I could do to help save the lives of so many in our community. When I had the opportunity to become an HPTN 083 site outreach representative, I jumped on it! I quickly became a clinical research coordinator, and once we met our recruitment goal, I solely focused on building relationships with our participants and keeping them engaged.
What aspect of your role do you enjoy the most?
Building these relationships with study participants has been what I have enjoyed the most about my role. There are so many different aspects of life that have become topics of conversation with our participants. Creating deep trust comes from seeing the whole person and not just an ID number. This trust has been something I take very seriously. I feel a deep sense of responsibility and loyalty to our study participants.
What has been the biggest challenge working in HIV prevention research?
One of the biggest challenges of HIV prevention research has been the stigma that is still very deep-seated in the Midwest. It has been a struggle to connect with a large portion of the Community here because of this. Everywhere I go, I try to have conversations that will hopefully help lead to de-stigmatizing HIV and HIV prevention in our area and rural communities. As part of my work to de-stigmatize and educate, I have spoken at local high schools, bars/clubs, teamed up with our local Planned Parenthood to hand out condoms and resource information, and have countless interactions with local LGBTQIA+ leaders.
What has been one of your proudest moments as a member of the HPTN?
One of my proudest moments as a member of the HPTN was when I was invited to work with the Community Working Group Evaluation Committee. I am incredibly pleased to be a part of a group looking to ensure community engagement is a top priority. Without community outreach representatives and community educators, clinical research would be impossible.
What inspires you?
I am inspired daily by a deep desire to leave things better than I found them. If one smile, one conversation, one act can make even the slightest bit of difference for the better in another's life, then it is worth doing every time. We owe it to each other to do what we can to improve the lives of those around us and to ensure that equity is not just something we talk about in our trainings – words without action are just lost opportunities to change the world.
What has been the most unusual or interesting job you’ve ever had?
The most exciting job I have ever had was working at an open-air restaurant on the Florida Keys oceanfront. I lived in the Keys for a little over three years, and I will never forget the awe I felt watching dolphins jump out of the water in front of me while serving fresh seafood that I knew was caught that morning. I miss living there every single day and visit whenever I can.