When he was a child, Jason Farley, PhD, MPH, CRNP, FAAN, was taught that HIV was a punishment from God toward gay people, and secretly believed that he himself would one day be punished for being gay with the virus that causes AIDS. But he learned the true etiology of HIV early on as a nursing student—a revelation that fueled his desire to study and care for people with the disease.
He credits a progressive course at the University of Alabama for the epiphany. “It opened my eyes to the biases I had been exposed to growing up and set me on a path that gave me a passion for working with people living with the disease,” he says.
After earning separate master’s degrees in public health and nursing, Farley enrolled in a doctoral program at Johns Hopkins University and, at the same time, worked as an infection control epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where there was an emphasis on reducing the spread of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and other antibiotic resistant organisms within the hospital.
The experience led Farley to study antibiotic resistant organisms—a major threat to people with HIV infections. For his doctoral dissertation, Farley found that 16 percent of newly arrested men within the Maryland Department of Corrections were colonized by MRSA—far higher than the 1 percent rate in the general U.S. population. The findings countered the conventional wisdom at the time, which held that MRSA colonization and infections were acquired in hospitals but were less likely in community settings.
Farley conducted a subsequent study that found similar rates of carriers of drug-resistant bacteria in newly admitted psychiatric patients at Johns Hopkins Hospital. And he will soon publish a study showing that routine testing procedures for drug-resistant bacteria are inadequate. He says that is further evidence that MRSA is deeply misunderstood in the health care system. “It is essential that we determine ways of preventing antibiotic-resistant organisms,” Farley says.
As a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholar (2012-2014), Farley is evaluating the spread of MRSA in individuals with HIV and their household members. And as an adjunct associate professor at the University of Kwa-Zulu, Natal, in South Africa, he is studying HIV patients with strains of tuberculosis that are resistant to multiple drugs (MDR-TB). Although rare in the United States, tuberculosis is the leading cause of death globally among patients with HIV.
Over the past few decades, Farley has traveled far on the path he set out on as a young university student, and the world is taking notice of his groundbreaking work. One recent example: Last year, he was inducted as a fellow into the American Academy of Nursing, one of the profession’s most prestigious honors. “Becoming a member of this distinguished group of nurses demonstrates wonderful recognition of my research, clinical practice, and education in HIV and associated co-infections,” Farley says.
It also sends a very different message than the one he got as a child, a message that is grounded in acceptance and hope, rather than fear and ignorance.