Supporting health care workers in the treatment of HIV-infected patients

Prim Care. 1992 Mar;19(1):245-56.


The care of HIV-infected patients is demanding, raising concerns among health care workers regarding safety, competence, and emotional endurance. Many health care workers are reluctant to undertake this challenging work. For many professions within health care, for example nursing, there is a clearly articulated responsibility to treat all ill individuals. Less unanimity on this point continues among physicians. Clearly, a first issue is to continue the discussion of the nature of physicians' professional responsibilities and to convey an understanding of the duties of physicians to medical students and to those considering careers as doctors. Meanwhile, efforts must continue to recruit individuals in all areas of health care to work with HIV-infected people. To some extent, this process will happen as a natural consequence of the evolution of the epidemic and its decreasing geographic and demographic restriction. "Mainstreaming" AIDS care will also require continuing attention to important issues, such as acquiring and maintaining the requisite professional competence in the management of HIV-related illnesses, ensuring the availability of support services that are required for the comprehensive care of HIV complications, and continuing education on and proactive monitoring of infection control practices. All of these activities assist in the creation of a positive environment for the care of AIDS patients. In addition, the emotional consequences of caring for HIV-infected people should be directly addressed, although there is less information on which strategies are useful. A supportive working environment, characterized by some meaningful element of control by all health care workers not just the medical staff, nonauthoritarian management, explicit and responsive processes for approaching the inevitable ethical dilemmas that arise in the care of HIV-infected patients, and a recognition of the emotional, psychological, and technical aspects of medical care are essential. In such an environment, health care providers will be able to develop and institute programs that address their particular needs. Strategies that have been helpful are diverse and include support groups, rotation of clinical assignments, part-time work, social activities away from the workplace, and collective spiritual activities.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Burnout, Professional / etiology
  • Ethics, Medical
  • HIV Infections / psychology*
  • HIV Infections / therapy
  • HIV Infections / transmission
  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Homosexuality
  • Humans
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Prejudice
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology
  • United States