As Jose Gutierrez prepared to defend his Ph.D. that focused on infectious disease research and treatment at Yale University last spring, he gained valuable insight and experience when he was called to the front lines to battle the global COVID-19 pandemic along with his Air National Guard unit.

“For me, it’s important to do good science.”

Gutierrez, a nurse practitioner, used his skills to care for COVID-19 patients and support the hard-hit Boston area’s depleted health care workforce.

The deployment brought together two passions – military service and learning about infectious diseases – for this Guard member who attributes his career achievements and aspirations to his Air Force active duty and reserve experiences along with his training in VA.

Pictured above, Gutierrez and Capt. Ann Marie Leifer who deployed in response to COVID-19 in Boston.

VA Fellow in National Clinician Scholars Program

Gutierrez is a VA Fellow in the National Clinician Scholars Program at San Francisco VA Health Care System and University of California San Francisco. As part of his advanced fellowship, Gutierrez and his mentor, Dr. Phyllis Tien, were involved in the Phase III trial for the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at San Francisco VA.

Tien says Gutierrez was instrumental in recruiting patients and seeing them in clinic for the trial.

“Being part of the response side and then being part of the research side for the vaccine was an irreplaceable experience,” Gutierrez said. “I certainly wouldn’t be here today without being involved in the military. And VA. These are training experiences you can’t get anywhere else.”

Received Army Achievement Medal for deployment

Gutierrez hopes to continue his career as a VA infectious disease research scientist.

“For me, it’s really important to do good science in order to produce really good results,” he said. “The pandemic taught us what we can do. It’s been good to see how we can continue to provide access to quality care.”

Gutierrez, who serves in the Air National Guard, received the Army Achievement Medal for his contributions during the deployment. The response was a joint operation of the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard.

Tonya C. Lobbestael is a public affairs officer for the VHA Office of Academic Affiliations.

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