• AIDS;
  • attitudes;
  • attributions;
  • discrimination;
  • homosexuality;
  • prejudice;
  • student nurse

The attitudes and attributions of student nurses: do they alter according to a person’s diagnosis or sexuality and what is the effect of nurse training?

The threat of an AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) epidemic in the early 1980s saw the emergence of strong negative attitudes from both the public and health care professionals alike. Certain ‘high risk’ groups in society, who were considered as susceptible to the disease, homosexuals and intravenous drug users in particular, became the victims of prejudice and discrimination. More recent research has indicated a possible shift to a more positive orientation, although the findings are far from conclusive. In this current study, the Prejudicial Evaluation and Social Interaction Scale (PESIS) was administered to four separate cohorts of student nurses approximately a year apart in training (n=192). Each cohort was divided into four groups, each one completing the PESIS after reading a version of a vignette that described either a person with AIDS or leukaemia, and who was either homosexual or heterosexual. The design therefore allowed for within-group and between-group comparisons. Overall the results showed that the student nurses held positive attitudes although they reported a significantly greater prejudice towards AIDS. No significant differences were found for sexual orientation. Additionally significantly greater levels of blame and responsibility were associated with the person with AIDS, but again there was no effect for sexual orientation. The findings suggest that a slightly more negative attitude continues to be associated with a diagnosis of AIDS but no longer with homosexuality. No effect across cohorts was noted either, student nurses being as positive at the beginning of training as at the end. Some of the limitations of PESIS and the difficulties of attitude assessment in general are discussed and future areas of research are identified.