Journal of Nursing Education

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Syllabus Selection: Innovative Learning Activity 

HIV/AIDS Role-Play Activity

Kimberly Penny, MSN, RN


There is no abstract for this article.


There is no abstract for this article.

HIV/AIDS Role-Play Activity

To improve their knowledge, their attitudes, and the provisions of caring, compassion, and competence, nursing students are instructed to assume the role of an individual diagnosed with HIV for 1 day, and then reflect and discuss the experience in a journal. Role-play is “good for adult learners because of the connection to real-life situations and active participation” (Billings & Halstead, 2005, p. 306).

Learning Objectives

During the HIV/AIDS unit, students are required to role-play living with an HIV diagnosis for 1 day and to keep a written journal of personal experiences and feelings related to the role-play scenario. This activity was developed to increase the affective domain of learning and develop empathy among nursing students when caring for individuals diagnosed with HIV or AIDS.

Case Study

The role-play scenario involves students pretending to test positive for HIV. Each is given a medication regimen (Table) for a 24-hour period. In addition, students are instructed to make or buy a pillbox to help with medication organization. The role-play involves ingestion of pretend medications (i.e., Skittles® or M&M’S®). Students must also determine whether any changes should be made in activities of daily living, such as methods in which to wash dirty laundry or eating utensils. Students must consider how sexual relationships may be affected. Medical care and costs should be assessed and needs determined, including:

  • Kinds of medical care needed.
  • Cost of medications.
  • Medical insurance availability.
  • Alternative assistance.
Case Study: Living with HIV

Table: Case Study: Living with HIV

Students are required to keep a journal during the experience to address how the pretend diagnosis has affected the students and their families. McKeachie and Svinicki (2006) view journals as “useful in helping students develop critical reflection and self-awareness” (p. 82).

Student Responses

Students were eager to share personal experiences and family reactions in class. Many verbalized that the medication regimen had controlled their entire day. One student stated that the medications were a constant reminder of the pretend illness. Students discussed the diagnosis with other instructors, coworkers, and friends. Many went to local pharmacists and completed cost analyses of monthly medications. Several students contacted personal insurance companies asking questions. One student spent several hours at a local facility that provides services to individuals diagnosed with HIV in search of information. Cornelius (2004) demonstrated that “students expressed greater behavioral intentions to provide HIV patients care when teaching methods that provided experiential teaching had been utilized” (p. 576). Sixty-two percent of participating students verbalized increased feelings of empathy for clients diagnosed with HIV or AIDS.


To conclude the lesson plan on HIV/AIDS, students were required to write their personal feelings and attitudes experienced throughout the course in a journal, with a follow-up reflection exercise. Billings and Halstead (2005) explained the advantages of journaling, including the promotion of learning from experiences to the process of learning to transfer facts from one context to another. An additional advantage to journaling was the development of students into lifelong learners. Role-play and journaling are effective learning strategies for all levels of nursing education.

Kimberly Penny, MSN, RN
Texarkana College
Health Occupations Division


  • Billings, DM & Halstead, JA2005. Teaching in nursing: A guide for faculty (2nd ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.
  • Cornelius, JB2004. To be touched by AIDS: An HIV-experiential teaching method. Journal of Nursing Education, 43, 576.
  • McKeachie, WJ & Svinicki, M2006. McKeachie’s teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (12th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Case Study: Living with HIV

As a nursing student, what would happen if you discovered that you have tested positive for HIV?
As a graded assignment, you are required to role-play the life of an individual diagnosed with HIV for a 24-hour period, keeping a journal of how the pretend diagnosis affects you. This will involve notifying family (i.e., spouse, parents, friends) that you must pretend to be HIV positive. Determine their reaction and feelings toward the situation. Please do not involve children in this exercise.
You must determine what changes must be made in your life to protect yourself and others. Will you make changes in the methods for laundry, dishwashing, and sexual relationships? What kind of medical care will you need? How much will this cost? Do you have insurance that will cover this? If not, where could you seek help?
In addition, you must role-play taking medications for a 24-hour period. Remember, most retroviral drugs must be taken around the clock. Will you need to set the alarm on your watch to remember to take your medication? How did family react to an alarm ringing in the middle of the night?
The medication regimen:
  12 a.m.: sulfadiazine (500 mg), zidovudine (100 mg)
  4 a.m.: sulfadiazine (500 mg), zidovudine (100 mg)
  6 a.m.: sulfadiazine (500 mg), indinavir (400 mg)
  8 a.m.: ranitidine (150 mg), zidovudine (100 mg), ritonavir (600 mg), multivitamin, clarithromycin (250 mg), pyrimethamine (50 mg), leucorin caclium (1 mg), abacavir (300 mg)
  12 p.m.: sulfadiazine (500 mg), zidovudine (100 mg)
  4 p.m.: indinavir (400 mg), zidovudine (100 mg)
  6 p.m.: sulfadiazine (500 mg)
  8 p.m.: ranitidine (150 mg), zidovudine (100 mg), ritonavir (600 mg), abacavir (300 mg), clarithromycin (250 mg)
  10 p.m.: amitriptyline (25 mg)
Please add any personal routine medications to the list.


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