What is a Nurse Advocate?

All nurses advocate for patients in the healthcare system, but not all nurses are nurse advocates. Sometimes referred to as RN patient advocates, registered nurse advocates are advanced practice nurses (APN) who are trained and participate in continuing education in order to advocate for the best possible health care for patients as part of health care teams. Patient-centered care taking the form of nurse advocacy has been in development in North America over the past 20 years. Practicing, licensed registered nurses (RNs) are eligible for continuing education and advanced degrees in order to become nurse advocates.

Education and Licensing Requirements

A nurse advocate needs to be a registered nurse (RN) and prepared to apply for a post-baccalaureate program offering Advanced Practice education in patient advocacy. The RN Patient Advocacy program was created by nurse advocates to train other nurses in how to work collaboratively with patients, institutions, insurers, and physicians. In order to enroll in an advanced nurse advocacy program, nurses need to have at least graduated nursing school with a diploma. A bachelor’s degree in nursing and passing the NCLEX exam are pre-requisites for beginning a patient advocate nurse program.

Work Environment and Philosophy

Nurse advocates follow a philosophy of care that seeks to integrate health care providers together in a coordinated care plan. This specialty is strongly patient-centered. Nurse advocates also seek to provide advocacy beyond individual patient care. They want to advocate for improvements in healthcare systems on the local, state, and even national level. Nurse advocates often work with patients with chronic diseases and complex health and personal needs. They can be found in hospitals, clinics, and in private practice. Some of the earliest forms of nurse advocacy were developed to help patients with a diagnosis of breast cancer. Nurse advocates now work with patients diagnosed with all types of cancer, as well as diseases like diabetes and chronic lung disorders.

Future of the Field

Many nurse advocates entered the field after practicing as clinical care nurses for a number of years. They learned the ins-and-outs of the healthcare system. Many in nurse advocacy believe their specialty has the potential to change the future of healthcare by righting many of the wrongs that have been done in the past. The specialty is seen as holistic and patient-focused. Health experts believe that nurse advocacy and similarly-designed fields in other areas of healthcare are the future for health needs and medicine.

Nurse advocates are Advanced Practice Nurses who help patients navigate the complex, overwhelming healthcare system. They assist patients in coordinating care, discharge planning, legal matters such as durable powers of attorney, patient services management, and risk management for patients and caregiving teams. They provide patients and their families with a voice in the healthcare system, and they can help to translate complex medical terms and concepts in a way that patients understand.

Related Resource: What is a Critical Care Nurse?

It is hard to envision a healthcare system without nurse advocates. Some physicians spend only five minutes or less with patients who have very serious diagnoses. Nurse advocates are there to bridge the gap between a patient’s needs and the ability of physicians to communicate treatment plans. For patients with serious diagnoses like cancer, nurse advocates make a tremendous difference.