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Medical Students Welcome Patients With HIV
Strong professional obligation to treat patients with HIV may indicate greater societal acceptance of people with AIDS

February 21, 1998

SAN FRANCISCO - Since the onset of the AIDS epidemic, many health care professionals have been hesitant or unwilling to treat people with HIV. But those attitudes may be changing. The results of a study of first-year medical students at the University of Chicago and the University of New Mexico indicate that barriers to care may be decreasing for people with HIV and AIDS.

The study, "Medical Students' Attitudes Toward Patients with HIV Infection," which appears in the current issue of the Journal of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, found that 92 percent of the first-year students surveyed would welcome people with HIV in their medical office and that one in five said interest in HIV treatment issues was one reason they entered medical school. The strongest factor in these students' willingness to care for patients with HIV, the study found, was a sense of professional obligation.

"Medical students should be prepared to care for any patient they encounter in their future specialties -- including those with HIV," said Darren Carter, MD, a resident in family medicine at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York, who co-authored the study with Laura Weiss Roberts, MD, an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine in Albuquerque. "No one with HIV should avoid obtaining health care because they fear their physician will treat them poorly. This study sheds light on what motivates students and what medical schools should be teaching students to help ensure discrimination never occurs."

The results of this study differ from earlier studies that found that many physicians and other health care workers were not only hesitant or unwilling to treat people with HIV, but did not feel a professional obligation to do so. But although this study uncovered more positive attitudes, it also found that fear of infection, homophobia, and the social stigma associated with HIV continues to influence medical students' views about caring for HIV-infected patients.

The sense of professional obligation that the study uncovered may be related to changing societal attitudes toward people with HIV and AIDS.

A recent CNN/USA Today Gallup Poll, for example, found that over the past decade people in the United States have become more accepting of people with AIDS.

"The future care of people with HIV and AIDS rests in the hands of today's medical students," said Jocelyn White, MD, co-editor of JGLMA and a board member of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association in San Francisco. "By addressing ethics and HIV in the medical school curricula and providing education about gay and lesbian health concerns, medical students will become better physicians and their patients will receive better care."

JGLMA, launched in March 1997, is the world's first peer-reviewed, multi-disciplinary journal dedicated to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered health. Specializing in original clinical research, JGLMA is published quarterly by the San Francisco-based GLMA. To request a sample copy of JGLMA, contact Plenum Press at 800-221-9369.


The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association is an organization of 2,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered physicians, medical students, and their supporters in all 50 states and 12 countries. Founded in 1981, GLMA works to combat homophobia within the medical profession and in society at large and to promote quality health care for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered patients.

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