The language of HIV: a guide for nurses

Shaun Watson1, Angelina Namiba2 and Vickie Lynn3

1Clinical Nurse Specialist HIV community, Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust 2Associate Project Manager, Salamander Trust3School of Social Work, University of South Florida, USA

Without communication it would be difficult for us to exist and language plays a dominant role in how we communicate. As nurses, verbal and non-verbal communication including language is an essential part of our training. The ability to communicate with patients and colleagues effectively is vital to our work, allowing us to assess, plan and evaluate the care we provide. As we develop and grow into our profession, our language and communication skills expand. Listening to what patients tell and don’t tell us or observing the nuances of body language communicates more than what we are verbally told. Language matters, it has power, it has the power to categorise people in descriptive terms that can be empowering or reductive [1].
Language impacts how we think about ourselves, and shapes how we see others. Over the past 30 years, people living with HIV have helped shape the language we use and their work has changed the way we discuss death, dying, sex and sexuality; ensuring that new discourse in the HIV field does not stigmatise, but rather catalyses empowerment for community members [2]. Language has shaped person-centred care and, on the whole, people living with HIV have become empowered self-managers informing the delivery of healthcare services.
Keywords: HIV, language, stigma, words