What does “advocate” mean? According to Merriam-Webster, an advocate is someone who:
- Pleads the cause of another,
- Defends or maintains a cause or proposal, or
- Supports or promotes the interests or cause of group.
Supporting and defending are front-and-center in these definitions. Advocates listen to and put faith in people. They bolster those who need it. Most simply, as past president of the American Counseling Association Courtland Lee says, the basic principles of advocacy are “helping people to be their best.” Wouldn’t you agree this sounds a lot like the nurse job description?
The “helping” professions, like counseling, social work, education, and nursing, all have a good deal of advocacy intertwined with their day-to-day jobs. Nurses are most certainly advocates for their patients. They put aside politics, stigma, and bias to provide quality care and medical attention, no matter who walks through the door. They help educate patients on their healthcare plans, including insurance coverage. They also pay attention to protecting patient information and data. The third provision, among the nine points of the American Nurses Association Code of Ethics, states that, “The nurse promotes, advocates for, and protects the rights, health, and safety of the patient.”
Nurses offer patient advocacy from all angles today.
Perhaps the most powerful thing about nurses is that they come from a position of power. Yet, as the gatekeepers to medical care for those in a vulnerable position, nurses utilize their power to enact positive change. Healing! In an age where we’ve seen power mis-appropriated in high-profile positions, it can be refreshing to see the opposite in the healthcare field. Nurses do their best to abide by Florence Nightingale’s legendary principle, noted in the early stages of nursing in 1863: to “do no harm.”
However important, it is also sometimes challenging for nurses to uphold that promise. Hospitals are potentially dangerous places, and nurses have a big job to achieve. Nurses act as the conduit between doctor-recommended care and implementation of treatment. This means that, in the healthcare field today, nurses are often the last failsafe between healing and serious medical errors.
In 2016, The American Nurse Journal shared shock with the public, in the discovery that medical errors were the third-leading cause of death in the United States. Two years later, CNBC reported not much change in that finding. Yet, the two leading causes of death are heart disease and cancer—both ongoing battles for clinical staff on the hospital floor. Nurses do their best to provide care under urgent, stressful, and trying conditions, including being short-staffed, over-worked, or at odds with steep technology learning curves. A huge part of being a patient advocate is advocating for what your healthcare team needs. Fair policy, strong leadership, and continual training will help more nurses catch more problems.
After all, identifying a problem, like noting an allergy bracelet before providing medicine, or checking the label on an I.V. bag before infusion, is just the first step. Speaking up and following the path to fix it is even more important. No matter whether you’re on an ER floor, or in a rehabilitation facility— as a nurse, it is your duty to set off the chain of actions towards a solution. It is the facility’s job to have policy in place that allows for the time and energy that this process requires. When we achieve this flow in our healthcare systems, we see the beauty of patient advocacy and social justice in motion.
What does it take to truly practice advocacy in nursing, you ask? It takes education and experience. It also takes a strong skillset and personal investment. It takes guts to speak up, and to make change happen. It takes an understanding of leadership practices and a solid set of nurse leadership skills.
Enter, a Master’s in Nursing (MSN). With an MSN degree under your belt, you can be an agent for the best patient experience possible, and make your mark on the healthcare field. A graduate nursing degree is seen with high respect, and nurse leaders who understand the policy, politics, and ethical code of nursing are the most likely to facilitate change. With a curriculum that focuses on population health and leadership, Goodwin College can help you expand your research skills, policy knowledge, leadership potential, and communication talents. Put your passion for patient advocacy, into action, today.
Call 800-889-3282 to learn more about the MSN program at Goodwin College. Or, visit us online to request more information. Goodwin’s Master’s in Nursing is flexible, designed for already-working and already-invested nurses, who are ready to grow and expand their role.