Influence of education on self-perceived attitudes about HIV/AIDS among human services providers.

Author:Riley, Joyce L.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection presents serious health and social concerns. Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop stated that "the purely scientific issues pale in comparison to the highly sensitive issues of law, ethics, economics, morality and social cohesion that are beginning to surface" (cited in Ember, 1987, p. 50).

The current study was undertaken in recognition of the need for relevant education of social services and health care professionals who care for people with HIV infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Although such professionals play a critical role in affecting how persons with HIV/AIDS and their significant others are treated, "perceptions founded on fears and incomplete information . . . may impair a |professional's~ ability to care for clients" (National Institute of Mental Health, 1986, p. 3). The purpose of this study was to see if educational programs about HIV/AIDS directed at those preparing to become human services providers and at those already practicing would reduce fears about working with HIV/AIDS clients.

Literature Review

The literature suggests that the ability of human services providers to work effectively with clients who are HIV positive may be linked to several complex factors. Perhaps the most salient factor is possession of the appropriate knowledge, attitudes, and skills to adequately address the needs of people with AIDS (Health Resources and Services Administration, Public Health Service, 1987). Studies indicate that social work students may be moderately or highly fearful of AIDS, may be misinformed about means of transmission, and have gaps in factual knowledge about AIDS (Dhooper, Royce, & Tran, 1987-1988; Wexler, 1989).

Human services providers who work with HIV/AIDS clients need to become more knowledgeable about the disease and to understand the minimal occupational risk of HIV exposure (Rosse, 1988). Knowledge about factors such as prevention, clinical presentation, transmission, and client lifestyle related to HIV also is important. In addition, the influence this knowledge has on the attitude of the service provider is critical to effective intervention. Workers need to "explore their own thoughts and responses to gay lifestyles and to drug-using clients" and "any personal doubts or anxieties about working with such clients" (Wiener, 1986, p. 41). Although more information and facts about HIV syndrome are needed, studies reveal that it is imperative that education address negative attitudes and beliefs as well as feelings about working with persons with AIDS (Merdinger, Wren, & Parry, 1990; Van Servellen, Lewis, & Leake, 1988).



Participants (n = 213) in a number of educational programs on HIV/AIDS were surveyed to determine if education could help reduce fear and increase comfort in working with HIV/AIDS clients. Program designs varied in content, length of course, and participant audience. Initially seven groups were surveyed. Preliminary analysis suggested that several programs, which were similar in content, length, and participants, could be collapsed for purposes of analysis and discussion. A description of the program designs is provided in Table 1.

Two groups taught by the same instructor (who had a master's degree in social work and considerable experience in the area of HIV/AIDS) that had the same course content and that were composed almost entirely of graduate social work students were collapsed into the Smith College/Catholic University group. Two other groups, which were collapsed into the Nursing Updates group, were composed entirely of registered nurses returning for their bachelor of science degrees who had received the same program content by the same instructor, an epidemiologist.

Two of the courses, UMBC 1 and UMBC 2, were planned and presented by the researchers at the University of...

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