HIV patients require very specific kinds of care. Nurses who specialize in HIV treatment are in a position to make a considerable difference in the lives of their patients, improving their health while advocating for their social and medical needs.
While any nurse can work with people suffering from HIV, it takes special certifications to specialize in this kind of care. In this article, we take a look at how you can specialize in HIV treatment as a nurse, and what your responsibilities might include when you do.
The Difference Between HIV and AIDS
It’s important to note that HIV and AIDS are not the same thing. Though HIV can transition into AIDS—particularly when early interventions have not been applied, modern treatments have largely made this preventable.
The roles being described in this article are specific to the treatment of HIV, though HIV nurses may regularly come into contact with patients who have AIDS as well.
What is an HIV Nursing Specialty?
Working with HIV patients and having an HIV specialty are not necessarily the same thing. There are many situations in which nurses may come into contact with people who have HIV, regardless of what their educational background is in.
Nurses with an HIV specialty have made the commitment to work with HIV patients regularly, providing care that is specific to their condition, and working as advocates for the patients and their families.
Getting your certification allows you to get jobs in HIV-specific clinics, while also improving your odds of assuming leadership roles and commanding a higher salary at work.
Like most nursing specialties, the path to getting an HIV specialty can be long and difficult. However, by following the right steps you can accomplish your goal while still helping HIV patients in the meantime.
Get Your BSN
Before you can work in HIV-specific nursing, you must first complete your ABSN. Usually, this is accomplished during the course of a four-year bachelor’s degree program. However, people that wish to speed things up may consider an accelerated course of study.
Accelerated programs can usually be completed in approximately 12-18 months, after which period the nursing student will be eligible to complete their certification testing and apply to get their license.
Accelerated courses of study are a good way to enter the profession faster but can be difficult, and they condense a significant amount of work into a short period of time.
You cannot specialize in HIV treatment at the college level. However, while you are in school, you may consider speaking with your instructors and advisor about your intention to work with HIV patients after graduation. Not only can they provide you with insights into the profession, but they may even be able to make recommendations for post-graduate work.
Once you have achieved your BSN, it’s time to get certified to work as a nurse. To do this you will need to pass the NCLEX—a test that all future nurses must take before they can begin working. The NCLEX is widely considered to be very difficult. However, there are study programs available that will help you get ready for it.
The NCLEX is a pass/fail exam, which means that nursing students need to answer at least half of the questions right to get their certification. It is advisable to dedicate a significant amount of time to studying before you pass your test.
Nursing students who have been educated in the United States have a pass rate of approximately 85%. However, people taking the test a second time pass at a rate of only 40%, putting a big premium on getting it right the first time.
Once you have passed the test you are eligible to become a fully certified nurse. Getting your license to work is a process that can vary from state to state. However, it usually requires paying a fee, getting a background check, and submitting requested materials to the state agency that is responsible for issuing licenses.
The process can take several weeks to a month to complete. Once you have become officially certified, you are eligible to work as a nurse. However, it is worth mentioning that you can apply for a job before you receive your license.
Many nurses begin looking for work while they are still in college. Getting “hired” as a student is nice from a job security perspective, but can create challenges and hurdles. Once you have accepted a job, your new employers may expect you to complete the required testing and licensing materials in a specified time frame.
Regardless, getting licensed allows you to accomplish the next step.
Typically, it takes several years of working with HIV patients to receive your specialty. Nurses can acquire this experience in any number of ways, but infectious disease clinics are a good place to start.
Most clinics will hire nurses even when they have not yet received their specialty. However, if you do not have access to a clinic that is likely to provide relevant experience in your area, you can still complete the requisite background work at a standard hospital.
Where Do HIV Nurses Work?
Once you have been certified, you may work in a clinic that is specific for people who have HIV. There you will treat symptoms, help patients with their medications, and generally serve as an advocate for the patient and their family members.
Not every community has HIV clinics which means you may need to be willing to travel to find work.
What Do HIV Nurses Get Paid?
HIV nurses make an average of $35 an hour, or approximately $75,000 annually. This number hovers around the general average nursing salary, which currently sits at approximately $73,000. The amount of money nurses make annually can range significantly based on where they are located.
Do You Need an HIV Certification?
You do not need any special certification to work with HIV patients. People with HIV come into contact with the healthcare system for a wide range of reasons, including standard hospital visits that do not relate to their condition.
RNs are eligible to work with them simply by virtue of their standard accreditation. Getting a specialty certification makes you eligible to focus your work entirely on patients with HIV. It may also increase your odds of getting a promotion over time.