Physicians' experiences of caring for late-stage HIV patients in the post-HAART era: Challenges and adaptations

Alison Karasz, Larry Dyche, Peter Selwyn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


As medical treatment for AIDS has become more complex, the need for good palliative and end-of-life care has also increased for patients with advanced disease. Such care is often inadequate, especially among low-income, ethnic minority patients. The current study investigated physicians' experiences with caring for dying HIV patients in an underserved, inner city community in the Bronx, NY. The goals of the study included: (1) to investigate the barriers to effective end-of-life care for HIV patients; and (2) to examine physicians' experiences of role hindrance and frustration in caring for dying patients in the era of HAART. Qualitative, open-ended interviews were conducted with 16 physicians. Physicians identified two core, prescriptive myths shaping their care for patients with HIV. The 'Good Doctor Myth' equates good medical care with the delivery of efficacious biomedical care. The role of the physician is defined as technical curer, while the patient's role is limited to consultation and compliance. The 'Good Death Myth' envisions an ideal death which is acknowledged, organized, and pain free: the role of the physician is defined as that of comforter and supporter in the dying process. Role expectations associated with these myths were often disappointed. First, late-stage patients refused to adhere to treatment and were thus dying "unnecessarily." Second, patients often refused to acknowledge, accept, or plan for the end of life and as a result died painful, chaotic deaths. These realities presented intense psychological and practical challenges for providers. Adaptive coping included both behavioral and cognitive strategies. Successful adaptation resulted in "positive engagement," experienced by participants as a continuing sense of fascination, gratification, and joy. Less successful adaptation could result in detachment or anger. Participants believed that engagement had a powerful impact on patient care. Working with dying HIV patients in the post-HAART era of efficacious treatment challenges physician's cherished roles and values. Physicians adapt to the challenge through a variety of cognitive and behavioral strategies. The failure to adapt successfully has psychological consequences for providers that may impact patient care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1609-1620
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - Nov 2003


  • Adherence
  • End-of-life care
  • HIV
  • Palliative care
  • The good death

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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