If you’re a nurse, you’re a patient advocate

Most nurses don’t wear nursing caps any longer, but we still wear many hats. And the advocate hat never flies away.

At times, the work we do is routine. At other times it is complex and critical. But it always is patient-centered. We are assessors, planners, providers and care evaluators. We are technicians and researchers, managers, leaders and educators. And we are nurse advocates.

Advocacy’s many definitions

Everyone may not define advocacy in the same way, but most would use phrases such as working on behalf of, supporting, upholding, taking responsibility for and defending patients.

We spend more time with patients than any other group in healthcare. We minister to, talk with, counsel, console and advise them, developing trust with them and their families. In so doing, we are advocates.

We are with patients in the first moments of life and the last, and in all that we do for them in between, the primary and most basic nursing principle we practice is, “Do no harm.” Here again, we are advocates.

It is the nurse who is charged with teaching patients about their illnesses and ensuring they understand their care plans. It is the nurse who provides them with information, explains procedures, presents options and alternatives, and answers their questions. It is the nurse who upholds patients’ rights and serves as liaison with their physicians and families — because we are advocates.

Patients need us

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement tells us, “Patients need someone who can look out for their best interests and help navigate the confusing healthcare system — in other words, an advocate.“

Whether we have an official title or a name badge that reads “patient advocate,” we are called to advocacy.

From the bedside to the boardroom; from the ICU to a legislative session; from an OR to a patient teaching session; or from a labor and delivery unit to an end-of-life care meeting with a family, our role is not only to care for our patients, but advocate for them regarding access, affordability, and quality.

In a recent article in Minority Nurse, independent consultant Janice Philllips, PhD, RN, FAAN said, “Getting involved with the advocacy/legislative arm of one’s professional or specialty organization is yet another great way to gain exposure and experience related to policy-making.”

We advocate when we speak out on important healthcare legislation or join with members of our professional nursing organizations who are part of groups lobbying and advocating for change in Washington.

We advocate in our own facilities and organizations in regard to a wide variety of workplace issues, from patient safety, the patient experience, employee workplace concerns, staffing issues, conflict, communication and more.

We advocate as part of nurse committees and forums where patient care and quality, and patient and staff satisfaction issues are reviewed and discussed.

And we advocate for our colleagues using our knowledge and experience and our critical thinking, strong communication, organizational and problem-solving skills.

In her 2013 book Becoming Influential: A Guide for Nurses, Eleanor Sullivan, MSN, PhD, FAAN, states, “Although nurses might achieve success for themselves as they become influential, they have a larger goal — one beyond themselves — which is to be more effective in what they do and to influence healthcare.”

Advocacy is a vital part of the nursing role, whether we use it to benefit our patients, advance the nursing profession, improve outcomes or initiate change, through advocacy we truly can be instrumental in transforming nursing and healthcare.

What is your favorite part of being an advocate for your patients? What is the most difficult part? Share your thoughts in the Comments section.

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