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Workplace Disclosure for MDs
May 30, 2012

I was dating and falling for a great guy who happens to be an ER doctor when I received my positive diagnosis. Fortunately he is still negative after both rapid and conclusive tests. We tried to make it work but his research indicated that should he become infected, he would have to not only disclose his status, but go before a board that would review which procedures he could and could not perform. I would have thought that he would be just as protected by HIPPA as the rest of us, but maybe not. We've broken up because neither one of us can handle that risk to his career, even when I do become undetectable and even if we successfully switch to much safer sex. I believe there are real feelings on both sides, but his first love is medicine, and he's very good at what he does, and I can't put that at risk for him, even as the chances get lower and lower in the coming months. In the unlikely event of infection, can he really be forced out of the ER?

Response from Mr. Chambers

Sero-different couples have a special challenge to their relationship as you clearly know. There are certain professions where HIV status can matter despite HIPAA, which really deals with medical confidentiality.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) considers HIV a disability for its purposes and its goal is to help people stay on the job with their condition, but with "reasonable accommodation."

The medical field has been a difficult field for HIV+ people to work in. Originally, they were just banned completely. Now that has changed and they look to see what risk of infection the may pose to patient and others. Usually the more invasive their job, the less they are able to continue doing it. They also see what shift in duties can be made that is reasonable accommodation.

These rules and reviews are set in each state. I must assume your ex-partner is aware of the rules in your state and, as he said, if positive, his job duties will be reviewed and some of his duties possibly restricted. However, depending on his specialty, there is almost always a position that won't involve the most invasive procedures.

I don't know what your current relationship with him is, but many AIDS Service Organizations have support groups specifically for sero-different couples. Or a couples counselor knowledgeable on the subject could provide assistance as well.

Good luck, Jacques



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