A nurse advocate is a nurse who works on behalf of patients to maintain quality of care and protect patients' rights. They intervene when there is a care concern, and following the proper channels, work to resolve any patient care issues. Realistically, every nurse is an advocate. There are, however, certain positions which allow nurses to specialize in patient advocacy.
All nurses are patient advocates. The art of intervening for patients is taught from day one in nursing programs. It takes skill (and courage) to be able to question superiors, report to a higher supervisor, or to verbalize ideas that may be considered unconventional. Nurses must be confident, skilled in the art of having difficult conversations and assertiveness and be able to keep an open mind and maintain professionalism.
What Are the Education Requirements for a Nurse Advocate?
Those interested in nurse advocacy should first pursue a nursing degree through a two- or four-year university. Obtaining an associate's degree (ADN) or bachelor's degree (BSN) in nursing is required.
After completion of an accredited nursing program, successful completion of the NCLEX-RN is required for licensure.
Any Certifications or Credentials Needed?
While formal certifications or credentials are not required, there are learning opportunities available to strengthen the practice of nurse advocacy. Obtaining certification identifies the nurse as an experienced provider who knows the ins and outs of the healthcare system, and who is knowledgeable about patients' rights as a consumer.
One certification program trains nurses as patient care liaisons and prepares them to be able to handle situations including ethical dilemmas, complex medical cases, and seeking second opinions. This program takes nine months to complete and requires continuing education to maintain certification. The program is open to medically trained as well as licensed professionals. Hospital, clinic, and extended care nurses may complete the program to better assist the patients they serve.
Another program teaches nurses how to become independent RN patient advocates (iRNPAs). This program is open to experienced RNs who wish to work independently—setting their own hours and wages while acting as a voice for patients as they try to navigate the healthcare system. The program consists of a five-month online training, followed by a six-day immersion course. Nurses must have an active RN license and a minimum of six years' experience in clinical nursing.
Nurse advocates can work in hospitals, outpatient clinics, specialty departments, long-term care facilities, non-profit organizations, or as independent healthcare consultants. In the inpatient setting, nurse advocates can work in:
- Patient care coordination
- Discharge planning
- Risk management
- Patient services
Nurse advocates are the voice for patients and families when they feel lost in the healthcare system. They operate as a liaison between patients, healthcare providers, and healthcare organizations or insurance companies. They help assess the needs of patients and families and develop a plan to meet those needs, utilizing available resources and ancillary staff.
What Are the Roles & Duties of a Nurse Advocate?
The roles and duties of a nurse advocate is multi-faceted, but the cornerstone is patient education. Roles and duties may include:
- Assessing patient care needs during hospitalization and discharge
- Reaching out to community resources as needed
- Educating patients about diagnoses and referring to specialties
- Advocating for treatments/procedures/tests that are appropriate for patient care/diagnoses
- Reviewing patient care concerns or grievances
- Providing education on insurance benefits
- Educating patients on current standards of practice in healthcare
- Demonstrating compassion and empathy with patients and families with regards to their healthcare wishes
- Educating patients on necessary healthcare decisions without bias or coercion
The ever-changing healthcare world combined with a greater number of consumers accessing information with the click of a computer mouse has led to more patients speaking up for their own health. Conflicting information can confuse patients and create dissention between a provider and patient. Nurse advocates work to bridge the gap between providers and patients, using research education as a tool to ensure care needs are met. This means that nurse advocates are now needed in many areas of healthcare.
According to payscale.com, nurse advocates can earn from $45,006 to $85,312 annually. This may differ based on degrees or certifications held and the state/city of employment. If working as private consultants in which nurses set their own wages, hourly rates can be $150 – $200 an hour.