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A woman with a sad expression stands in front of three doctors, who tower over her like mountains with their backs turned.

Health Practitioner Stigma

In a modern world, you would expect healthcare workers to be impartial or educated about HIV. While this has been my expectation, what I have encountered is entirely different.

From nurses to doctors, my diagnosis has impacted the ways in which I received medical treatment over the last several years.

Healthcare practitioners can show stigma based on either disease-related factors or non-health-related factors. Stigma has been "widely documented, ranging from outright denial of care, provision of sub-standard care, physical and verbal abuse, to more subtle forms, such as making certain people wait longer or passing their care off to junior colleagues."2

All of this hinders the care received by an individual and can reduce the likelihood of them seeking future care at the said facility or in general.

Experience with a nurse

I have received perfectly fine treatment from nurses until they find out my status. Afterward, they either refuse to come back into my room or do something like a double glove and mask up. This is frustrating to me, especially if they are not dealing with my blood at all.

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This type of behavior has caused my best friend to speak with the floor nurse. She did this to find me a new nurse. A nurse who can be logical about treating a patient with HIV. One who will treat me like a human.

Stigma from my cardiologist

I have had the same cardiologist since PCP pneumonia almost killed me. He is the same doctor that treated me at the hospital and ever since then. Although I can honestly say, soon he may be replaced with somebody else.

Every time I see him after a few months, he asks me when my blood transfusion was done. HUH? When I tell him that I did not have one, he informs me it is rare to see HIV-positive patients “these days.”

Every time he makes that comment, I want to smack him. Currently, I am working to replace him.

But honestly, I want to ask what part of ME makes him say those things. Is it because I am white (and Native American), is it because I am a heterosexual woman, or is it because I am not a drug user? HIV doesn't discriminate.

As an example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women made up 19 percent (7,190 people) of the 37,968 new HIV diagnoses in the US and dependent areas in 2018. While this may not seem like much, how this percentage of women became positive is astounding. Of these women, 85 percent contracted HIV through heterosexual contact, and 21 percent were White.1

So why does he feel the need to make such snide comments to my face, nonetheless?

Healthcare professional education about stigma

I spoke with a practicing nurse about how nurses that are not in the infectious disease field are educated about HIV.

In nursing school, they are educated about the infection, signs/symptoms, treatment, and prevention of HIV/AIDs. After my experiences, I assumed they were not taught this information at all.

While we are all allowed to have our own opinions, said opinions should not come out while managing patient care. As a patient who has experienced health practitioner stigma myself, it has a large effect on my desire to be treated again.

This could easily reduce my likelihood of following through with the care that I need. We all deserve to be treated like human beings.

Have you ever experienced health practitioner stigma? Share your stories here!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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