Jim Raper, D.S.N., J.D., learned the value of hard work spending his summers on a family farm in Culberson, N.C. 

Jim Raper, director of the 1917 HIV/AIDS Outpatient and Infectious Disease Clinics, recently was named a fellow by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, becoming the first nurse practitioner in Alabama to receive the award.

Growing vegetables, raising livestock and selling your products has a way of motivating someone to work hard – especially when you’re counting on that for your livelihood.

“From an early age you learn you have to work and work hard when you’re growing up on a farm,” Raper says. “But I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.”

The values instilled in Raper on the family farm have paid off for him as a nurse practitioner at UAB. He recently was named a fellow by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners for his commitment to the care of patients, especially those infected with HIV. Raper is the first nurse practitioner in Alabama to receive this honor.

“It’s an honor and humbling to be selected,” says Raper, director of the 1917 HIV/AIDS Outpatient and Infectious Disease Clinics. “This was something I wanted to be able to do – to be a fellow in the Academy.”

Raper will spend time helping nursing scholars and educators nationwide plan and deliver leadership and mentorship programs for nurse practitioners and nurse practitioner students as part of the fellowship.

The opportunity for such a leadership role is something Raper has strived to achieve. He has made national contributions while working with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, recently finishing a two-year appointment on the Advanced Practice Committee. He also has worked with the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care (ANAC) and published numerous articles.

“I’ve been a nurse practitioner for 12 years, and I’ve been highly engaged the entire 12 years,” says Raper, who has been a nurse for 30 years total, 24 of them spent at UAB.

Trained at UAB
Raper completed his undergraduate work at Kent State and earned his master’s at the University of Alabama in Huntsville while in the Army. He came to UAB after leaving the Army in 1983 and completed his doctor of science in nursing degree at UAB in 1994.

“UAB’s doctoral program was one of the first in the Southeast, and it is well-recognized throughout the United States and around the world,” Raper says. “Some of the best nursing scholars and scientists in the United States graduated from this program, so I’m in pretty good company.

“I think all of my education has been sound, but it’s my doctorate that I’m the most proud to have completed.”

Raper worked in the cardiovascular operating room with John Kirklin, M.D., after arriving at UAB in 1983. Kirklin quickly became a mentor to Raper, who says the qualities Kirklin exhibited are those he’s always strived to achieve.

“His many contributions, especially in terms of being a leader, are just phenomenal,” Raper says. “Everything he did was 100 percent, striving to do the best he could for every single patient. I’ve tried to do that my entire career.”

Raper counts Mike Saag, M.D., director of the UAB Center for AIDS Research and the Division of Infectious Diseases, as another mentor. Raper had the opportunity to work for Saag after moving to the 1917 Clinic.

Raper had seen several friends with HIV die, including his partner in 1993. So when the opportunity to manage the Alabama HIV vaccine clinic emerged, Raper jumped at the chance. Before long, Raper be-came its administrative director and nurse practitioner. Now, 12 years later he’s the only non-physician director of a clinic at UAB after taking the reins of the 1917 Clinic in April. 

The future
Raper went back to school in 2000 in pursuit of a law degree. “I wanted to investigate what it would be like to work in health-care advocacy and reform,” he says. He received his juris doctor degree in 2003.
Raper says he believes bedside nurses can do a good job in health-care advocacy, and at some point he might like to move in that direction.

That’s not likely to happen anytime soon, however. He has made a commitment to his patients that he intends to keep.

“You wake up one day and realize you’ve worked for 30 years at something, and you certainly hope you’re making a contribution and moving your profession forward,” he says. “For me, nursing has been a wonderful profession. I tell my patients I don’t plan to retire until I’m 85. I don’t know if that will come true or not, but that’s my plan.”