Dental students treating patients living with HIV/AIDS: the influence of attitudes and HIV knowledge

Jason D Seacat, Mark D Litt, Adam S Daniels
Journal of Dental Education 2009, 73 (4): 437-44
As life expectancy for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) increases, these individuals will have greater need for competent and compassionate oral health care. Unfortunately, PLWHA face many significant barriers to receiving adequate oral health care, due in part to the fear of being stigmatized or discriminated against by dental care providers (DCPs). Although many studies have documented accounts of prejudice and discrimination toward PLWHA in the dental health care setting, few have developed theoretical explanations as to why these attitudes and behaviors persist or how they can be effectively ameliorated. The goal of the current study was to utilize Weiner's Attribution-Helping model to explain how a patient's perceived responsibility for contracting HIV might impact DCPs' attitudes and behavioral responses toward PLWHA. Existing research has demonstrated that DCPs' level of HIV-related knowledge impacts their treatment attitudes and behaviors toward PLWHA, but it remains unclear whether the effects of HIV-related knowledge may be masked by the personal attitudes (i.e., perceived patient responsibility for contracting HIV) that DCPs maintain. One hundred and eighteen dental students were recruited from a New England dental program. All participants read one of three brief patient vignettes in which the mode by which an individual contracted HIV was manipulated. Dental students then completed a survey assessing 1) perceptions of the patient's responsibility for contracting HIV; 2) knowledge of HIV; and 3) treatment attitudes. Results indicated that both knowledge of HIV and attributions of patient responsibility for illness were predictive of negative attitudes toward treatment.

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