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Keywords:

  • empirical research report;
  • ethnography;
  • HIV/AIDS;
  • nurse roles

Aim.  This paper reports an empirical research study investigating specific features of the culture of care on a specialized unit supporting people living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Background.  The anxiety felt by healthcare workers coming into contact with people living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) has been recognized in numerous studies. There is often an amplified notion of threat and a worldview fuelled by stereotypes, which inevitably leads to negative attitudes and stigmatization.

Methods.  An ethnographic approach was used, including a 14-month period of observation and 31 semistructured interviews. The data were collected during 2000 and 2001 in a large teaching hospital in the United Kingdom.

Findings.  Carers working on this unit who regularly contributed to the care of this client group had a broad range of experience and in many cases had chosen to work in the field. They worked within a social context that had a high level of egalitarianism, a view of PLWHA that appeared more positive and less pejorative than others, and a strongly empathetic approach accompanied by close engagement with the client group.

Conclusion.  Using nursing staff specially prepared for the care of PLWHA could be the most effective way to minimize stigma and discrimination against this client group in the healthcare sector.