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Advocacy in Nursing: What Does a Nurse Advocate Do?

June 11, 2021  |  Category: Nursing

A nurse advocate offers support to a smiling patient in a wheelchair.

Nurse advocates use their positions of trust to protect the rights, health, and safety of patients. They work with healthcare providers, nurse leaders, medical administrators, policymakers, and nursing organizations to ensure the highest level of patient care for individuals and families alike.

Nurse advocates speak on behalf of patients to promote human rights, equality, liberty, and civil rights, among many other important issues. Addressing each patient’s need to be heard and understood, advocacy in nursing is an essential duty of registered nurses, nurse leaders, nurse practitioners, nurse educators, and other healthcare professionals.

The role of a nurse advocate is an important and inspiring leadership position in healthcare. Nurses can learn how to advocate for patients in a variety of ways as they’re earning a degree, such as an online Master of Science in Nursing, and gaining experience in the field.

What Is Advocacy in Nursing?

Whether they work in hospitals, outpatient clinics, or other types of facilities, nurses in all occupations have a responsibility to make sure patients are receiving high levels of care. Nurse advocates strive to ensure that services, policies, and regulations focus on meeting patients’ needs while keeping them safe.

Nurse advocates serve as liaisons between patients, their physicians, and healthcare facilities. For example, they may go over a treatment plan with patients after the doctor has prescribed a new medication or made a diagnosis. If a patient doesn’t understand their condition or diagnosis, a nurse advocate can clarify it to them and their family members.

As patient advocates, nurses are healthcare experts who can help patients navigate the complex healthcare system. If a patient doesn’t agree with a treatment plan, for instance, a nurse advocate can communicate with the doctor on their behalf.

Additionally, nurse advocates can ensure that doctors are recommending the most cost-effective treatment options for patients. For instance, if a doctor offers two treatment options, nurse advocates can help patients make a decision based on what is best for their health as well as what they can afford. They can have conversations with patients about accessing financial resources or help them understand what their insurance will cover.

Benefits of Nurse Advocacy

Nurse advocacy benefits patients and nurses alike. Here are a few ways nurse advocacy has a positive impact:

Benefits for Patients

Nurse advocates give patients a voice in situations or settings where they could possibly be ignored or disregarded. Since many people are not familiar with the medical terminology that doctors use, nurse advocates can break down complicated information regarding diagnoses, medication, or treatment plans.

Nurse advocates also take time to educate patients about their conditions, informing them of alternative or wholistic treatment options. They work with the patients’ families or loved ones to ensure someone can help meet at-home care needs.

If a patient is from an underserved or underrepresented background, a nurse advocate can help make sure they don’t get lost in the maze of the healthcare system. Additionally, if a patient’s first language isn’t English, a nurse advocate can interpret or arrange for an interpreter.

One of the most important benefits of advocacy in nursing is that nurses connect patients with any outside resources they may need. For instance, if a patient needs financial assistance, transportation, or an at-home caregiver, a nurse advocate can make sure that the patient gets referrals and guidance.

Benefits for Nurses

By advocating for the safety and wellness of patients, nurses contribute to work environments with higher standards, better regulations, and patient-centered policies. When medical environments are safer, nurses can administer care with less risk of harming their patients. Advocating for safety leads to the wellness of both patients and nurses.

Another benefit of nurse advocacy is the fight to improve the working conditions of nurses. When nurses have better working conditions, they can offer better care to their patients. If one nurse is carrying a heavy workload and starting to experience signs of burnout, another nurse can step in and offer support. Nurses can also work together to combat unfair hours or workloads that would prohibit them from offering high levels of care. By advocating for themselves, nurses can better serve their patients.

Nurse advocacy demonstrates that the staff of a healthcare organization cares about its patients. When nurses and administrators take extra time to meet the needs of patients, they show that they see patients as more than numbers. This also helps with patient retention, as patients want to visit care providers who value them.

How to Become a Nurse Advocate

The process of becoming a nurse advocate can look different for nurse practitioners, nurse administrators, and nurse educators. Most individuals begin by earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing, passing the NCLEX-RN exam, and then gaining experience as a registered nurse.

While a nurse may not hold the formal title of “nurse advocate,” each and every registered nurse can weave the threads of advocacy in nursing into their daily tasks. For example, they can take extra time to explain a prescription to a patient or help connect a patient with financial assistance. Advocacy in nursing is a calling and a mindset, and pursuing it brings clarity and comfort to each patient a nurse serves.

Individuals who are interested in taking on the official role of nurse advocate in a medical facility should consider earning an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing. In an MSN program, nursing students typically choose one of the following three career options: family nurse practitioner, nurse educator, or nurse administrator.

Family Nurse Practitioners

Family nurse practitioners can work autonomously in various settings as primary care providers. They advocate with passion and dedication for the children, adults, and families whom they serve.

Nurse Educators

Nurse educators train nursing students, prospective nurses, and current registered nurses. They help nurses understand the significance of nurse advocacy and share the tools nurse advocates need to be successful, such as cultural competency (understanding the unique experience of each patient based on their cultural background and beliefs).

Nurse Administrators

Nurse leaders and administrators hold managerial roles in the nursing field. Their positions allow them to help meet the financial and medical needs of patients.

Professionals in each of these positions work in hospitals, physicians’ offices, residential facilities, outpatient clinics, nursing homes, and other medical facilities. They fight for patient rights, influence policies, and make a difference in the lives of patients.

Earn Your Master’s Degree in Nursing

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right.” People have often paraphrased his quote as follows: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Nurse advocates devote their lives to speaking up about things that matter, ensuring that the voices of their patients and fellow nurses are heard.

If you’re passionate about advocacy in nursing, consider earning AdventHealth University Online’s Master of Science in Nursing. No matter which degree track you choose — Education, Family Nurse Practitioner, or Administration and Leadership — the MSN program can help prepare you for a rewarding career as a nurse advocate.

Recommended Readings
Advocating for Nurses With Disabilities
Nurse Burnout: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention
Registered Nurse Responsibilities

Sources:
Health Stream, “5 Ways Nurses as Advocates Benefits Healthcare”
Johnson + Johnson, “Become a Nurse Advocate”
Nurse Choice, “Nurse Advocacy: 3 Ways to Become a Better Nurse Advocate”
Oncology Nursing News, “Six Ways Nurses Can Advocate for Patients”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses