HIV: Why See a Specialist?


Allie Lemco Toren

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Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a complex disease that affects everyone differently. That’s why all HIV patients should follow unique treatment plans tailored to their specific needs. But your primary care doctor may not have all the information you need to manage your HIV successfully.

That’s where specialists come in: a HIV specialist has the right skills and insight to help you stay in control of your HIV. Here’s why:

1. An HIV specialist completes extensive training in treating HIV and is an expert in HIV care.

An HIV specialist is a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating infectious diseases like HIV. Not all diseases are treated by specialists who focus narrowly on one condition, but HIV is such a complicated disease that interested physicians must train extensively to master this area of study and be considered HIV specialists.

All doctors complete a training program called a residency after they finish medical school. But HIV specialists receive extensive training beyond that. HIV specialists spend several additional years in an infectious disease fellowship, in which they train under experienced HIV physicians and focus on patients with HIV and related conditions. At the end of this period, they can take an exam to become a specialty board-certified HIV specialist. Look for a doctor who is board certified in HIV medicine and you’ll know you’re seeing an expert. 

2. An HIV specialist never stops learning about HIV.

To maintain their board certification, HIV specialists must keep up with new developments in their field. They must complete continuing education and renew their license every few years, depending on the state in which they practice and other factors. By following these requirements, board-certified HIV specialists stay on top of new treatments and discoveries about the mechanisms involved in HIV, so they can then provide their patients with insightful, informed, and up-to-date treatment plans. This is especially important for people with HIV, as researchers are understanding more and more everyday about how best to treat the virus.

3. An HIV specialist has extensive experience in treating HIV.

HIV specialists exclusively treat patients with HIV and thus are more experienced in treating the condition successfully. Because they treat a high volume of HIV patients, they can add real-world knowledge of the disease to their academic and clinical training. They’re able to assess how well patients respond to certain treatments, have a deeper understanding of how HIV progresses over time, share insight about effectively implementing lifestyle changes, and recognize symptoms that a general practitioner may miss, among other skills.

4. An HIV specialist is a team player.

HIV specialists work with teams of other health care providers who treat patients with HIV and can connect patients with other medical specialists, nurse practitioners, dentists, pharmacists, nutritionists, mental health counselors, and other experts in HIV management. Working with a team can help patients address all aspects of the disease and ensure successful care.

5. It’s easy to find the right HIV specialist for you.

There are thousands of HIV specialists in the United States, so how do you know which is the right doctor for you? By searching on, you can identify the best HIV specialist to help you manage your HIV successfully.


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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Dec 5, 2016

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