Understanding the Role of an HIV Specialist

Expertise of an HIV Specialist and the Benefits of Seeing One

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Experts agree that in order to get the best HIV care, people infected with the virus should get their medical care from an HIV specialist. 

Let's learn more about what gives HIV specialists their expertise and why you should have one if you are infected with HIV.

What Makes an HIV 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) defines the HIV specialist as meeting 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. 


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 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.


A doctor must maintain a current state MD or DO medical license.

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. 

What are the Benefits of an HIV Specialist?

There are distinct benefits to getting your HIV care from an HIV specialist. These 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 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 adept at both because of the number of HIV patients they treat and the experience they have gained by taking care of them.

The Cutting Edge of HIV Medicine

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. For instance, treatment modalities 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 later.

Finding an HIV Specialist

HIV specialists can be found in most large cities, and HIV specialists often serve rural communities as well. Here are some ways that will help you find the HIV specialist:

  • 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. Please note that 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 may be able to recommend a specialist.


American Academy of HIV Medicine. Practicing HIV Specialist (AAHIVS). Retrieved October 14th 2015

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