by Douglas Walter
Nurse practitioner Suzanne Jed’s work as an HIV/AIDS nurse in Denver has led her into both educational and patient-care roles, which is typical for this nurse speciality of work.
For three days a week, Jed is the clinical education coordinator and instructor for the Mountain Plains AIDS Education & Training Center, focusing her time on educating health-care providers about how to treat people with HIV or AIDS.
She works with nurses, doctors and others to educate them about HIV/AIDS issues. For example, she educates pharmacists on related medications, or talks to dentists about how to identify infections and how treat patients accordingly, in terms of occupational exposure to infections.
Through Mountain Plains, Jed also is an editor of a HIV/AIDS source book for primary care givers. She conducts tours of medical facilities and clinics association with HIV/AIDS care, as well as gives presentations on care of the disease.
She also travels to provide education to health care providers. Most recently, she went to Africa to train nurses about HIV/AIDS care in a three-week training program.
“It’s definitely overwhelming to see the AIDS epidemic. It really brings home how effective antiretroviral treatment is,” she said of a common treatment difficult to obtain in Africa.
When she’s not educating fellow health care providers, Jed then cares for HIV/AIDS patients at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center of Disease Control. In this role, she does a lot of educating as well.
HIV and AIDS patients, especially those who have just found out they are infected have a lot to learn about how their lives are going to change and how they can best take care of themselves.
Consider the importance of taking the antiretroviral medications consistently, for example. Patients must take two pills a day, every day, and never get off track.
“Antiretroviral treatment keeps HIV from multiplying and keeps it from attacking the immune system,” Jed said.
But if you miss a period of time on the medication, it can set patients way back.
And patients must learn about risky behavior, as far as not infecting others, but also keeping themselves healthy and safe from opportunity infections. Patients who develop AIDS from HIV, which attacks the immune system, die of other diseases that the body can’t fend off. Most commonly, patient fall victim to type of pneumonia called pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, or PCP.
Also on this note, intravenous drug users have a high rate of HIV infection. Jed said her job involves encouraging drug users to kick their habit, but it also includes educating them on how to be as safe as possible with intravenous drugs, if they can’t stop using.
“There’s just a lot of educating going on,” Jed said. “This is a fairly involved speciality ... It’s an incredibly interesting field.”
Proving care of HIV/AIDS patients is a broad practice, from providing primary health care to treatment of specific ailments related to immune deficiency.
The HIV/AIDS Nursing Certification Board, for example, defines the field as requiring a “complex knowledge base and range of skills that include pathophysiology, learning principles, family dynamics, grief and loss, coping with chronic illness, care of immunocompromised clients, risk assessment and risk reduction.”
The board encourages a voluntary certification of HIV/AIDS nursing. Jed said some universities are now offering programs for HIV/AIDS nursing.
Nearly 40 million people worldwide are living with HIV and 40,000 new cases of HIV are diagnosed each year. Treatment has come along ways sense the first known cases 25 years ago, particularly with new antiretroviral agents, Jed said.
“On medications, we don’t know how long someone can live,” she said. “But we expect our patients to live quite a while.”
Fourteen years is the latest estimate, but that changes each year that goes by as people live longer and longer.
That puts Jed in a sort of monitoring role with HIV patients who are just diagnosed. She regularly runs labs on to check CD4* T-Cell counts, which are indicators for how progressed is the infection.
She also checks “viral load,” which also indicates the amount of HIV.
These tests help determine when medication is needed and how affective they are when they are given. Of course, they also indicate the progression of the infection, which helps dictate care.
Jed said she sees and calls her patients regularly and develops a bond with many of them. “If you are talking about HIV care, it’s something that is so personal ... there definitely a bond that develops,” she said.
Jed, who began her nursing career in family care, said helping others in need is the reason she sought out this particular field.
“I wanted to work with people who really needed health care providers,” she said.