Thousands of miles from San Francisco, an emergency room nurse pricks her finger while administering pain medication to a patient who happens to be HIV-positive.
Frightened by her exposure to the virus – also confused and embarrassed – the nurse seeks advice from her supervisor, and with a few lingering questions, they reach for the phone. The voice on the other end – reassuring and knowledgeable – calmly listens to the nurse’s fears and suggests some next steps.
The scenario is fictitious, but it is representative of the thousands of calls handled annually by clinicians working the telephone hotlines of the National HIV/AIDS Clinicians’ Consultation Center (NCCC), housed at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) – the Warmline for medical treatment, the PEPline for postexposure prophylaxis such as needlesticks, and the Perinatal HIV Hotline for issues in pregnancy and delivery.
The only advice center of its kind in the nation, this free, confidential service was started officially in 1993 as a way of sharing UCSF’s renowned expertise in HIV and AIDS with health care providers nationwide.
Historically, physicians and some pharmacists have staffed the lines, but this year, for the first time, nurse practitioner students and recent graduates are working as PEPline and Perinatal Hotline consultants in a pilot collaboration between the center and UC San Francisco School of Nursing. The School’s adult-gerontology nurse practitioner HIV specialty focus is a natural pipeline for bringing new expertise to the lines, program officials say.
“The NP students bring a ton of clinical savvy and enthusiasm,” says Brenda Goldhammer, NCCC project manager. “They arrive with a fantastic zeal for learning new information, which we all find contagious. In addition, they have excellent communication skills, which are critical for a telephone consultation service such as ours.”