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  1. Griffin, Lauren BSN student

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THIS YEAR, I was privileged to work with patients at an HIV clinic in Philadelphia. The clinic's surrounding neighborhood is affected by high rates of drug use and prostitution, so HIV-positive patients are, unfortunately, appearing in growing numbers. The stigma that surrounds this disease is created by a lack of understanding and information by patients' family, friends, and even healthcare providers. I've seen people express fears of touching HIV-positive patients, patients afraid to tell their families about their diagnosis, and even nurses tiptoeing around the fact that a patient is HIV-positive. When will society realize that HIV is a disease that affects people of all ages, genders, races, and backgrounds?


Stigma's damaging effects

My instructor reiterated this information about the stigma of HIV infection with one of her patients as he prepared to leave the clinic. They'd been over this time and time again, but shame and guilt about his HIV infection made him want to hide his diagnosis from his family and friends. This patient sparked my interest in learning more about the HIV stigma. I asked patients, peers, and colleagues what made people so afraid of the disease and how people viewed these patients. These are some of the answers I received:


HIV-positive patients are dirty. They're gay. They're drug addicts. They're uneducated. They're poor. They don't care about their bodies. They're prostitutes. They're homeless. They sleep around. HIV-positive patients are something to stay away from.


The more I thought about how unfairly HIV-positive patients are viewed, the more I wanted to know about their disease and the stereotypes that surround it. I'm so thankful that I got to take part in this clinical rotation early on in my nursing education because it's already taught me so much about how to treat others. It's important to view a person as just that-a person, not a disease. As a nurse, my job will be to care for patients and help them recover from their health disorder. And when that's not possible, my job will be to rid them of the words, thoughts, and feelings that stigmatize them every day, and to help them achieve the highest quality of life possible.


Millions of people live with diseases, not just HIV, that have left them feeling guilty and ashamed. I believe it's important to spread the word that illness doesn't define a patient. We need to educate others about the facts around HIV. No matter what the diagnosis, no person should ever feel defined by an illness. Here are some resources with information on HIV:


* U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: HIV overview. https://aidsinfo.nih.gov/understanding-hiv-aids/fact-sheets/19/45/hiv-aids-the-b.


* AVERT: HIV transmission and prevention. https://www.avert.org/hiv-transmission-prevention.


* Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Resources for patients. https://www.cdc.gov/actagainstaids/campaigns/hssc/patientresources.html.


* AVERT: HIV stigma and discrimination. https://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-social-issues/stigma-discrimination.



Although I haven't been immersed in the nursing world for long, the lessons I've learned regarding the stigma of HIV infection will stay with me throughout my career as well as in my personal life.


Bonus content!

Head to http://www.nursing2017.com for more information on caring for patients with HIV.


HIV pain management challenges and alternative therapieshttp://journals.lww.com/nursing/Fulltext/2017/04000/HIV_pain_management_challeng


Online resources for HIV/AIDShttp://journals.lww.com/nursing/Fulltext/2016/06000/Online_resources_for_HIV_AID


NP to the rescuehttp://journals.lww.com/nursing/Fulltext/2015/08000/NP_to_the_rescue.15.aspx