Experiences of AIDS-dedicated nurses in alleviating the stress of AIDS caregiving


  • Deborah Witt Sherman PhD RN ANP CS

    1. Aaron Diamond Post-Doctoral Research Fellow and Assistant Professor, New York University, School of Education, Division of Nursing, New York University, New York, USA
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Deborah Witt Sherman New York University, 429 Shimkin Hall, 50 West 4th Street, New York, New York 10012, USA.


Experiences of AIDS-dedicated nurses in alleviating the stress of AIDS caregiving

From the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, there have been individuals dedicated to the care of patients with AIDS. However, there has been little research regarding their perceptions and experiences of AIDS caregiving and the strategies they use to alleviate the stress and promote their willingness to care. Based on the experiences of 12 nurses at one hospital, who had chosen to work on an AIDS-dedicated unit, this exploratory study, conducted in 1998, explored the following: the physical, emotional or spiritual risks and stresses associated with AIDS caregiving; factors that provide resistance to the stresses of AIDS caregiving and promote a willingness to care; and strategies recommended by AIDS-dedicated nurses in caring for patients with AIDS. The data reveal important themes related to the physical stress of AIDS caregiving, specifically being aware of risks, but not paralysed by fear, and bombardment of the senses. The coping strategies of nurses included taking the risk in their stride, reframing the risk, and protecting oneself. The emotional stress of AIDS caregiving included witnessing suffering, experiencing unresolved grief, accepting diversity, being emotionally connected, distress from the dismantling of the AIDS unit and work demands, and declining team spirit. Coping strategies included balancing personal and professional life, releasing pain, respecting yet controlling feelings, managing demands, and asking for help. Nurses maintained their spiritual perspective. They experienced through AIDS caregiving a greater sense of shared humanity and a new perspective of life. Findings indicate that AIDS-dedicated nurses use many coping strategies. The experiences of these nurses can assist clinicians, educators and administrators in supporting nurses’ caregiving and promoting the quality of care offered to patients with AIDS.