HIV/AIDS Health Counselor Jobs: Career Options and Requirements

HIV and AIDS counseling requires compassionate individuals with extensive knowledge of the disease. Continue reading for an overview of the degree requirements and medical training, as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates.

Being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS can be devastating and often times counseling is required. As an HIV/AIDS health counselor you'll help these patients cope with this extremely difficult situation. There are a variety of professions that fall under this umbrella and professional requirements differ for each.

Essential Information

HIV/AIDS counseling career options include licensed mental health counselors and HIV counselors, such as a nurse or an individual with some training in social work or behavioral sciences. Education requirements include at least an associate's degree or nursing certificate depending on the specific field. A master's or doctoral degree is necessary for some of the positions.

Careers Registered Nurses Mental Health Counselors Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses
Required Education Associate's Degree Master's Degree Certification or Associate's Degree
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 16% 20% 16%
Median Salary (2015*) $67,490 $41,880 $43,170

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counselors offer clients a non-judgmental environment where they can learn new coping and other mental health skills. They help patients process and solve problems in their daily lives and develop a therapeutic rapport. Mental health counselors can work with individuals or groups of people. Those who work on a one-on-one basis with HIV or AIDS-infected patients must rigorously follow confidentiality laws to ensure the mental health of their clients is safeguarded.

Outreach Counselor

Many cities offer outreach centers where individuals at high risk for HIV and AIDS or who already have HIV and AIDS can come for education about wellness, prevention and treatment. These facilities might be staffed by physicians, nurse practitioners or other medical personnel and volunteers, and could also include a mental health counselor. These counseling professionals support medical staff and offer therapeutic services to patients dealing with severe emotions.

Support Group Facilitator

Mental health counselors could work as facilitators for support groups consisting of men and women with HIV or AIDS. Although these groups are often led by the participants, a mental health counselor usually acts as a group coordinator to answer questions, help maintain the flow of meetings and provide an office or other facility where the group can meet.

HIV Counselor

Just as a mental health counselor might work in a community outreach center with the goal of educating about AIDS prevention, HIV counselors work in public outreach in a similar capacity. HIV counselors could also work for a state or local board of health or other government public health organization. They spend time with clients and take detailed medical histories. Some HIV counselors are licensed practical nurses or registered nurses who can perform basic medical tests, including tests for HIV infection.

HIV counselors educate clients on injectable drug use, sexual practices and other risk factors for HIV infection. They assist clients in acquiring needed financial, medical and social support. They teach coping skills to help clients who are in crisis.

Career Requirements for HIV/AIDS Health Counselors

Anyone who works as an HIV/AIDS counselor requires extensive, current knowledge of the symptoms and treatments of AIDS and HIV infections, the methods by which the virus is (and is not) transmitted and prevention measures. HIV/AIDS counselors must enjoy working with other people, have a compassionate nature and be good listeners. A broad knowledge of diverse cultural beliefs and attitudes is often necessary when working with diverse populations.

Mental Health Counselors Education Requirements

Mental health counselors must have at least a bachelor's degree in social work, behavioral science or psychology, in addition to any required state licensing. A master's or doctoral degree in psychology, sociology, social work, human services or another closely related field could provide additional employment opportunity and might be required for some jobs. Specific training and certification for most counselors is voluntary, but can be obtained through several organizations, such as the National Board for Certified Counselors or the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Employment and Salary Info

Mental health counselors will see a 20% increase in job opportunities from 2014-2024, stated the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The median annual wages of these workers were $41,880 in May 2015.

HIV Counselors

HIV counselors should have a strong background in health care, including courses on disease prevention, anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and psychology. A vocational program or associate's degree in nursing qualifies graduates to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA), practical nurse or registered nurse.

Those who perform blood testing need to have taken and passed the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN for practical nurses or NCLEX-RN for registered nurses) to obtain state licensure. CNAs are required to have 75 hours of supervised, on-the-job training and pass an examination. Individuals who hold a bachelor's degree in social work, sociology, behavioral science, psychology or human services and who have experience in the counseling field could also work as HIV counselors, though they can't provide any medical procedures, such as blood draws or testing.

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

While the BLS doesn't provide career information for HIV counselors specifically, registered nurses were projected to see a 16% increase in employment opportunities from 2014-2024, while licensed practical and vocational nurses would also see a 16% increase. The median annual wages of registered nurses were $67,490 in May 2015. Licensed practical and vocational nurses earned a median salary of $43,170 that same year.

As a counselor you'll need empathy, great listening skills and extensive knowledge of coping skills. If you enjoy helping others, comforting them in need and working in healthcare then this might be the career for you.


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