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Living with HIV: Is it Necessary to Have an HIV Specialist? By Chris Wade, IPHA – HIV Care Connect Project Coordinator

Chris wadeExperts from across the field agree that in order to get the best HIV care, people living with HIV should get their medical care from an HIV specialist. But why? As long as you are in care with a doctor, does it matter? What about a family doctor or a general practitioner? Won’t they do just as well? Simply put, the answer is no. In order to get the best HIV care you need the best HIV medical mind … an HIV specialist.

What Makes an HIV Specialist?

Being an HIV specialist is not just a matter of a physician calling him or herself a specialist. There are guidelines and requirements that have to be met in order to be considered an HIV specialist. The American Academy of HIV Medicine (AAHIVM) has established a definition of the HIV specialist that includes three standard criteria for HIV knowledge measurement. They include:


The doctor must maintain state licensure and provide direct, on-going, continuous care for at least 20 HIV patients over the past two years. This requirement has to be documented every two years and if the doctor fails to document this requirement, the doctor is no longer considered an HIV specialist.


The doctor must complete at least 30 credits of HIV-related continuing medical education (CME) every two years or must have completed an HIV-related internship or fellowship in the last two years.

•External Validation

A doctor must be recognized by an external credentialing entity such as the AAHIVM. This is accomplished by passing an HIV Medicine Credentialing Exam.

When looking for an HIV doctor, make sure he or she meets these three criteria. If so, your doctor can be considered an HIV specialist. Now that you know what an HIV specialist is, let’s tell you why having one is a must.

What are the Benefits of an HIV Specialist?

There are distinct benefits to getting your HIV care from an HIV specialist. As stated earlier, experts feel that the benefits will greatly improve your quality of life with HIV and your prognosis down the road. The benefits of an HIV specialist include:

•Knowledge and Experience

Knowledge and experience go together. HIV specialists who treat dozens or hundreds of HIV-infected people have much more experience recognizing symptoms, addressing complications, and developing care plans and treatment regimens than a general practitioner taking care of a few HIV patients each year.

•Communication and Understanding

Since HIV impacts the whole person, both physical and emotional, those who care for HIV infected people need to be able to communicate with their patients and understand the special needs that HIV presents. HIV specialists are capable of both because of the number of HIV patients they treat and the experience they have gained by taking care of them.

•State of the Art of HIV Medicine

In order to be an HIV specialist, a doctor must keep current with the rapid changes in HIV science. Through continuing education, journals, and conferences, HIV specialists are continuously learning how to best treat HIV. As a patient, being cared for by an HIV specialist makes that cutting-edge treatment and therapy available. Treatment methods thought to be helpful may in the future be no longer recommended. HIV specialists would know this immediately, whereas a general practitioner may not hear about such treatment changes until much later.

Finding an HIV Specialist

HIV specialists can be found in most every large city; HIV specialists often serve rural communities as well. Here are some good sources that will help you find the HIV specialist you are looking for:

•Contact large hospitals in your area, especially ones that are affiliated with a university. HIV specialists can usually be found in the infectious disease departments of those hospitals.

Important Fact! – Not all infectious disease doctors are necessarily HIV specialists. When making the call make sure you request an HIV specialist.

•Speak with the local HIV/AIDS service agencies in your area. They will have a list of local HIV specialists and in most cases will help you get connected with one of them.

•Word of mouth is a good source when looking for an HIV specialist. Listen to others who are living with HIV. They will be able to recommend a specialist and can provide you with information about the HIV specialist they see.

•Finding a HIV Doctor: Visit for HIV Education, Prevention, and Care resources across Illinois.