The Challenges

Gideon Mendel

Challenging issues were faced by healthcare workers for which they were, at first, ill prepared.  As well as the fear and stigma, healthcare workers were caring for patients who were of a similar age, came from similar backgrounds and peer groups. For many it was the first time they had to address issues so deeply with patients around sex and sexuality, death and dying, discrimination and stigma.  The role of the healthcare worker during this time took on so many varied roles; there were the complex social needs, helping patients tell their parents that they were gay, had AIDS and they were dying.  It was often healthcare workers who tried to keep families together, and if not successful, it would be the healthcare workers who would support patients at the end of their lives, helping with funeral preparations and end of life issues.

Healthcare workers faced their own challenges

For those healthcare workers who found themselves involved, or chose to become involved, in this new specialty, experiences of discrimination were not uncommon. Healthcare workers reported that their own family members would ask them not to work “on those wards”, “what if you get HIV from the patients”.  Personal relationships suffered.  One nurse reflects that if she did not know people well, she would not tell them what type of nursing she did, fearful of their response.