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Becoming a Better Patient Advocate

Nurses advocate on behalf of their patients in many important ways. As a nurse, you’re responsible for advancing your patients’ interests and health. The online RN to BSN program at Eastern Michigan University includes Nurse as Advocate, a course that covers patient advocacy in depth. Learning to become a better patient advocate can assist you in helping your patients get the care and services they need. Ultimately, it helps you improve the healthcare system as a whole by advocating for the needs of individual patients.

Understanding Advocacy

Patient advocacy is about standing up for and defending patients’ rights to help patients determine their own best interests. Nurses help to educate patients, enabling them to make informed decisions. In contrast to paternalism, patient advocacy does not consist of making choices for patients, deciding what their best interests are, and enforcing those decisions. Patients have the right to self-determination — to make decisions about their lives and healthcare. As a nurse, it is important for you to support patients’ rights to make these decisions.

Nurses serve as patient advocates by providing information, supporting patients’ decisions, and acting in the best interests of their patients. When patients have questions or are trying to understand something about their health, the healthcare system, or recommended therapies and treatments, nurses have a responsibility to share their knowledge. Patients are not always knowledgeable about healthcare, so they need someone who can advise and educate them about their options. This way, when they do choose a particular treatment or make some other health decision, they are making the choice or the decision from an educated place.

Obstacles to Patient Advocacy

In your role as patient advocate, you may encounter obstacles. These obstacles can be the attitudes of other providers, educational limitations of the patient, or simply “the way things have always been done.” It is important for you to learn how to overcome these obstacles and advocate on behalf of patients who need it. You may find that institutional structures and the beliefs of others about your patients or about nurses’ roles in patient advocacy can directly impact your advocacy experience.

For instance, healthcare providers with paternalistic attitudes about patients may believe that patients should accept their providers’ recommendations without considering alternatives or making their own decisions. If you encounter colleagues who believe patients do not have the right to make their own healthcare decisions, it may seem more difficult to be an effective patient advocate, but this is when advocates are needed most.

Advocacy and Communication

If you face resistance from others, you may find better results if you use your interpersonal skills to communicate your patient’s autonomy and interests. For instance, you can express your perspective as a patient advocate by returning the focus of the conversation back to the patient. You can start your sentences with phrasing that indicates this, such as, “In the patient’s best interest, here’s what I suggest...” This is a non-confrontational way to advocate for your patient, without appearing to assert your own ego. Keep in mind that your body language should also communicate a willingness to advocate for your patient and should be free from fearful, confrontational posturing.

While it is true that you cannot always change the system or the obstacles you encounter as an advocate, you can control how you respond to those obstacles. You can still support your patients’ wants and needs. Your work on their behalf means they have someone representing their interests and trying to make a positive change, and they will know it.

Educational Limitations and Advocacy

You may not feel properly equipped to serve as a patient advocate in some situations. You may feel as though you do not have the educational background in effective advocacy. Other nurses who are effective advocates can help by serving as mentors. Coursework in advocacy can also help you find the resources you need to serve your patients. Continuing your education can help you understand your own limitations and provide you with an opportunity to improve your communication skills and understanding of nursing ethics. The complexity of nursing advocacy may make the role seem daunting, but you can equip yourself with knowledge.

Patient advocacy is an important part of the nursing profession. Nurses can amplify the voices of patients who are unable to effectively represent themselves. They can support patients by providing them with knowledge to help them understand their options. They can also stand up for patients in a healthcare system that does not always recognize patients’ rights or immediately acknowledge them. Advocacy is not paternalistic. Rather, it enables and supports the patients’ right to express themselves regarding their lives and healthcare.

Learn more about the EMU online RN to BSN program.


Sources:

American Nurse Today: From Our Readers…Practical Approaches to Patient Advocacy Barriers

Nursing Ethics: Nursing Advocacy: An Ethic of Practice


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