Perceptions of nursing students towards caring for people living with HIV/AIDS: A qualitative study spanning multiple cultural contexts

Author: David Pickles

Pickles, David, 2015 Perceptions of nursing students towards caring for people living with HIV/AIDS: A qualitative study spanning multiple cultural contexts, Flinders University, School of Nursing & Midwifery

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Since HIV and AIDS were first identified in the early 1980’s the global epidemic has claimed the lives of more than 25 million people. The number of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWA) has been variously estimated at between 35 and 42 million. Throughout this epidemic, and worldwide, nurses have played a leading role in providing care to PLWA. However, research studies have shown that some nurses and nursing students have negative perceptions of PLWA. These studies indicated a reluctance to provide care to PLWA, resulting in less than optimum quality nursing support being provided. It is essential for the nursing profession to understand and work towards overcoming negative perceptions of PLWA to ensure the provision of high quality nursing support.

Research has suggested that perceptions are strongly influenced by prevailing socio-cultural values. An appreciation of these values is necessary in developing an understanding of the perceptions shaped by them. Such an understanding should be a precursor to developing strategies to reshape negative perceptions. This study has explored socio-cultural influences on perceptions held by nursing students from a number of countries toward caring for PLWA. The aim was to develop a deep understanding and appreciation of these perceptions in order to inform and influence nursing curriculum development. Based on the foundations of social constructionism and situated in the interpretive paradigm, this qualitative descriptive study has been informed by the concept of stigma and aspects of stigma theory.

The study was conducted at a university in Australia, with data being collected via semi-structured interviews and vignettes to elicit the thoughts, feelings and perceptions of the participants towards PLWA. Recorded interviews were transcribed and interpreted using a process of thematic content analysis to identify themes in the data. Three major themes emerged, each with a number of associated sub-themes. These three themes were named: Blame; Othering; Values.

Some study participants held PLWA responsible for behaviour perceived to have resulted in infection with the HIV virus, this concept of blaming the victim has been explored through the theme: Blame. The labelling of PLWA by some study participants as being different from main-stream society was the focus of the theme: Othering. Culturally construed perceptions of homosexuality and drug use were assigned to PLWA thereby ‘othering’ them. In contrast to the negatively construed concepts of the themes: Blame; Othering, the focus of the third theme: Values, was placed on positive values described by participants in this study. Participants indicated a strong sense of what was expected of them in their future professional capacity of Registered Nurses, and of the professional nursing values expected of them. Some disparity became apparent between these professional values and participants socially and culturally construed perceptions of PLWA.

The study findings have been interpreted and appraised in relation to appropriate theory and literature. This discussion highlighted contrasts between study participants and their culturally informed perceptions of PLWA. Following the interpretation, appraisal and discussion of the study findings, recommendations have been made in three main areas: nursing student education; clinical practice; further research.

Keywords: HIV/AIDS, nursing students, perceptions, stigma

Subject: Nursing thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2015
School: School of Nursing & Midwifery
Supervisor: Dr Lindy King