Alumni Profiles Series: Dalmacio Dennis Flores

 March 18, 2020

Dalmacio Dennis Flores, Ph.D.

Dalmacio Dennis Flores received his Ph.D. in Nursing in 2016 and is currently an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. For the last 10 years he has been serving on the front lines of HIV treatment, first as a nurse on an HIV/AIDS unit in Atlanta and now as a nurse scientist conducting intervention research targeting HIV prevention. Dennis is a strong advocate for LGBTQ adolescents and an ally for parents by helping them have important conversations to improve communication and sexual health and reduce the risk of HIV. During his time at Duke, Dennis received the 2016 Dean's Award for Excellence in Mentoring and served as a member of the Graduate Board of Visitors. Follow Dennis on Twitter @dfloresrn.


I secured a competitive two-year postdoctoral fellowship at another awesome institution, University of Pennsylvania (Penn), in their T32 for Vulnerable Women, Children, and Families. During this fellowship, I had the pleasure of learning about intervention development. As a nurse, developing interventions is the nature of our work, so I went to Penn with the express purpose of learning how to create and package interventions in ways that providers and consumers—in this case families—can utilize them effectively. I established a new circle of collaborators and resources for my topic within the university as well as outside through community health partners. Subsequently, I had the great fortune of then securing a tenure-track position at the University of Pennsylvania and I am now in my second year.


The Graduate School’s Preparing Future Faculty program and the Certificate in College Teaching were very helpful in making the transition to my tenure-track position. As a predoc, while I was keen on finishing the dissertation, I also knew that as part of my future work I would be an educator. I went into the Ph.D. not just for the research: I enjoyed educating new nurses, based on my experiences as a charge nurse at the bedside. So, I intentionally sought out opportunities at Duke that would help me become a good educator. Both of these programs helped me recognize the features within a classroom and coursework which are important, such as knowing how to lay out a solid syllabus, learning how to develop objectives that are measurable, and mindfully planning the physical layout of a classroom according to what I want to impart. Through these programs, I learned nuances that graduate students are rarely taught unless they are education majors, so that also gave me an upper hand on the job market. I was proud of completing these programs and spoke about them to everyone who would listen. I even had a dedicated slide on these experiences embedded in my job talk.


I have continued doing the research I started at Duke which includes developing ways for parents to have inclusive conversations with kids who might be LGBTQ. My research is focused on family-based sex communication, which is essentially having discussions about the birds and the bees but being more inclusive about it. Essentially, I am seeking to help dads and moms furnish information in a way that does not assume their kids are heterosexual. Because I am solidly in the intervention development phase, everything I thought about during the predoctoral phase that I hoped I would get to, I am doing now.

My motivation for beginning my Ph.D. was seeing the gap in resources for the population that I most desired to help– sexual and gender minority adolescents. Fast forward: now as a faculty member, I have developed my very first intervention, Parents ASSIST: Advancing Supportive and Sexuality Inclusive Sex Talks. It is a video-based platform where parents are taught about topics pertinent for gay, bisexual, and queer males and walks them through having sensitive conversations. Sex talks are difficult for parents regardless of whether their child is straight or gay, but these extra topics that heterosexual parents do not personally have experience with make it harder. My team and I have received phenomenal feedback, better than even my wildest dreams, including parents who shared the resource through word of mouth, doubling the number of participants that we intended to recruit. I am now planning to test it through a randomized control trial.


Dalmacio Dennis Flores accepting an award


Yes, I received the inaugural Lucy Bradley-Springer Excellence in HIV Prevention Award from the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care. It was so special.  If I didn’t know anything about myself, I would think, “Why is this second-year faculty member getting this award?” It seems a little premature, but the commendation noted that the award was in recognition of ten years in HIV prevention starting in Atlanta, and then expanding further locally, nationally, and internationally. They honored my unbroken line of steady work with different components in the clinical, community, and now research sectors and my continued commitment to HIV prevention. It was an honor to receive this inaugural award. Lucy has been a leader in sexual health for decades and to learn and that she was there to hand out the very first award named in her honor to me was just surreal.


Julie Barroso, Ph.D., ANP, RN, FAAN my mentor and dissertation chair, taught me “do not assume ill intent.” Just because something does not make sense to you in an email from a colleague or people are not giving you what you think that you want, it does not mean they are coming from a bad place. There may be other factors you do not know. It is easy to become reactionary in these moments but Julie verbalizing this truth to me early was a great reminder that things are not about me.


My time at Duke was a great adventure. My favorite memories include lining up for basketball tickets and getting indoctrinated into the whole culture of Duke basketball. It was always fun being able to access the games so easily, knowing the rest of the world would die to get those tickets.

Professionally, I have many memories as a result of the socialization into the role of researcher the members of my cohort and I received through the generous support of our program. These memories were adventures and they included going to conferences and getting trained on special skills. When you really believe in the work you are doing, going to a conference to meet a renowned researcher takes the place of going to a concert and meeting a musical artist you really enjoy. It is the same caliber. Traveling the world and seeing places I never thought I would, while pursuing further training and disseminating my research, have replaced some of my traditional notions of fun and adventure.


Always remember the reasons you decided to get a graduate degree and stay true to them. In my case, I knew the Ph.D. was in service of helping families who have LGBTQ children, so I kept that on the horizon as the goal. Then having all these milestones leading up to your goal and celebrating each of them is how you keep your sanity. Make sure you celebrate all the things you are able to accomplish semester by semester and year by year, because before you know it that goal post you have been striving for is right in your face and you are able to touch it. It has happened for me now. However, I recognize not getting too stuck in the moment is easier said than done. Remember setbacks do pass and they happen to everyone. (If you don’t have a setback, something might be off.) Expect a couple of roadblocks, and when you get through them you can compare notes with everybody else. We can compare roadblocks, but we are all succeeding, and we are so much stronger after that. It is like the Bette Midler song “Wind Beneath My Wings,” but we love it.


Michelle Franklin
Michelle Scotton Franklin

Ph.D. candidate, Nursing

Michelle Scotton Franklin, MSN, PMHNP, FNP is a nurse practitioner in the final year of her Ph.D. at Duke University School of Nursing. During her time at Duke she has dedicated her research efforts to examining the health care transition experience and health status trajectories of adolescents and young adults with intellectual disability. As a Ph.D. student within the School of Nursing and as a Margolis Scholar within the Duke-Margolis Health Policy Center, she conducts research that will shape disability practice and policy.