Improving health outcomes and providing excellent patient care are at the heart of the nursing profession. Traditionally, and in today’s healthcare system, nurses have advocated for their patients and their work, as well as themselves, to ensure that standards of care remain high. This is crucial because in a clinical setting, people are more vulnerable than outside a hospital or when they are well. Patients who are ill or injured have to trust the medical professionals around them to care for them appropriately. However, some patients have little knowledge of their condition, and in a busy facility, it can be hard to speak with a practitioner to get information. This can make it difficult for patients and their families to make informed decisions, to decide how to move forward with their treatment, and to prepare for the future.
What do we mean by advocacy?
Whichever circumstance the term is applied to, advocacy involves speaking out on behalf of another person or group. The aim usually consists of ensuring that their rights are recognized, their interests are protected, and their well-being is considered.
In a medical context, advocacy is about speaking on behalf of patients, giving support, and offering guidance when people need to choose their treatment. As nurses are often the first people that patients get to speak with in an office, clinic, or hospital, they are in an ideal position to be an advocate. Nurses see their perspective through building trust and spending time with patients. They better understand what patients want and learn what prevents them from accessing the care they might need.
At university, student nurses are taught that advocacy is essential to their practice, as it ensures that patients are well cared for. Being able to help people in their hour of need and making a real difference in their recovery is rewarding and empowering. This aspect of nursing attracts many people to the profession, but it also drives experienced nurses to attain further qualifications and pursue more specialist roles. However, many have felt that the additional training was costly, inconvenient, or too difficult to fit around a family life.
This is why providers such as Wilkes University have introduced online RN MSN programs, which allow registered nurses to move into nurse practitioner roles more smoothly. The courses are delivered 100% remotely, aside from clinical residencies, which will take place locally, and students can graduate after just 36 months of study.
What does advocacy look like in practice?
Advocacy focuses on supporting the aims of patient-centered care and keeping patients safe. It helps nurses to ensure that patient care is individualized and focused on the preferences and needs of the person being treated. Advocacy on a ward or in a clinic involves treating patients equally, respecting their dignity, ensuring their rights are protected, and preventing suffering when possible. There are various strategies that nurses employ to carry out this work.
Helping to support each patient’s autonomy
Patients must agree with their treatment, understand why they are receiving care, and agree with their decisions. This level of autonomy means that they are more likely to follow a medication program or take their physician’s advice once they leave the office or are discharged from the hospital. Patients who feel that their preferences, beliefs, and values have been ignored or that they have been forced into making a decision are more likely to neglect their condition. This can lead to the emergence of more serious symptoms, a need for emergency care, and, eventually, readmission to the hospital.
Nurses can support autonomous decision-making by encouraging patients to request any information they need or offering advice. For example, the decision to start or stop a course of chemotherapy or attend a rehabilitation program is a personal choice for a patient. Giving the patient the power to choose is essential because they are the ones who will live with the decision.
Breaking down the barriers for patients trying to access care
There are various barriers to care, from a lack of insurance coverage to language problems and staff shortages. These mainly affect patients on a low income or part of a vulnerable or underserved population. Nurses can tackle these barriers in their workplace or through community work. In doing so, they help to make care more accessible for the people they serve.
Often, better communication is the best form of advocacy, especially when there is a language barrier. In many communities, some patients will speak a different language from their healthcare team. If so, nurses can respond by bringing in an interpreter to interact with the patient. This could be an in-person visit or through an online video link. The interpreter can relay information from the medical team and then ensure that the patient understands and has the chance to ask questions.
Aside from language, a lack of medical knowledge and low literacy levels can also hinder a patient’s recovery. Although medical professionals may think they have clearly explained their point and given straightforward guidance, the patient may not understand and be too embarrassed to admit they are confused. This might lead to patients taking their medication incorrectly or not following wellness advice. To reinforce the idea, nurses can address the issue by offering visual instructions and explaining the key points in front of a person’s family.
This can build trust in patients, both in terms of their care plan and the healthcare team that is managing their recovery. As well as improving the health outcomes of individual patients, this type of advocacy can ensure that people have more faith in the US healthcare system. As a result, they may seek help before their condition deteriorates and avoid rehospitalizations.
Working with the wider healthcare team
Patient care involves diagnosing conditions and carrying out procedures, which is only part of a nurse’s role. Nurses must collaborate regularly with their team to keep patients informed and engaged in their care. Here, once again, nurses have to utilize their communication skills. First, they need to establish a good relationship with the patient so that they are willing to share their worries and symptoms openly and honestly. This will involve building trust through being compassionate and showing patience. Once they have the important details, the nurse must communicate them effectively and clearly to their colleagues. This means that nothing is missed, the team can make informed decisions, and the patient has the best possible outcome.
Acting as a guide and educator for patients and families
The outcomes for each patient, in terms of rehospitalization or recovery, depend to a large extent on whether they comply with the recommendations that a nurse or physician gives. Even when there are no barriers to communication, some patients need further support and education to stay on the right path. Putting people in touch with outpatient groups that help with weight loss, alcohol problems, or stopping smoking can be essential to advocacy. This proactive stance means patients don’t feel alone when facing a change and upheaval. Along with supporting patients who need to make dramatic lifestyle changes, nurses can educate their families and show them how to inspire the patient. Encouragement at home can be very motivating, and alongside professional care, it can hold value for people who need to alter a long-held habit.
Protecting the rights of patients
In the US, patients are protected by a list of rights, and according to their code of ethics, nurses must uphold them. By advocating for each patient’s rights, nurses help establish trust between them and the medical professionals around them. Nurses will strive to treat patients with dignity, support them in making medical choices, and help them obtain care for pre-existing conditions. This form of advocacy also includes a willingness to discuss the costs and benefits of various treatments honestly. Finally, if a patient is unhappy with their initial diagnosis, a nurse will support them in finding a second opinion.
Keeping patients safe
There is an expectation of safety when patients enter a medical facility, but each year, 100,000 reports of medication errors are made to the FDA. On the front lines of patient care, nurses can prioritize patient safety in several ways. Primarily, this will involve checking that each person is being medicated correctly by following the set standards for drug administration. Often referred to as the ‘five rights‘, the practice includes medicating the right patient and using the right drug at the right time, with the right dose, through the right route. Aside from adherence to best practices, nurses can also advocate for better safety by speaking to their manager if nurse-to-patient staffing ratios seem low or if there are often shortages of key medical resources. Advocacy can also involve nurses protecting vulnerable patients from harm by monitoring their condition closely and remaining vigilant throughout their shifts.
Advocacy outside of clinical settings
Nurses can contribute to the system by advocating for patients and participating in policymaking debates. Nurses’ medical training, practical knowledge, and hands-on experience mean they have a unique perspective regarding providing care. Therefore, they should feel confident advocating outside the hospital or clinic and in patient-facing situations.
Learning more about existing legislation
For nurses who want to be effective advocates, it is essential to stay up to date with recent healthcare initiatives and learn more about the debates surrounding new medical treatments. Nurses can read the latest education news to see how healthcare training is evolving, attend workshops, and become active in national groups, such as Campaign for Action. This allows them to collaborate, share knowledge, and become better advocates.
Lobbying elected representatives
One of the most practical campaign methods for positive healthcare change is contacting an elected representative. Nurses work in the healthcare system daily, so their views should be part of the political decision-making. Nurses can urge a representative to draw attention to an issue in the media or vote to favor an act by sharing their medical care experience and knowledge. They can also attend meetings with policymakers to offer insight into the factors impacting patient care and share their ideas for change. Whether they identify a need for more resources, better community health provision, or higher staffing levels, advocating in a political context allows nurses to have a say in future health policies.
Nurses are expected to follow strict standards and maintain professionalism when using social media, but it can be useful. From advocating for better access to healthcare in rural communities to explaining how health disparities work, social media can be a good way of getting a message to a wide audience. By posting accurate, credible information from reliable sources, nurses can also advocate for population health. This could be through sharing educational materials about healthy living or by advertising health-related services that are available to local people.
Advocacy is a constant process for nurses.
Advocacy is about nurses being ready to speak up for patients, standards, and their profession whenever needed. This could be in a morning huddle at the hospital, an official meeting, or a public space. They will attend conferences, maintain professional development, and join organizations that advocate for better healthcare to stay informed about new health policies, initiatives, and laws. Nurses can advocate effectively for improved patient care, good working conditions, and patient safety by being present in the public arena and clinical settings. Through these various forms of advocacy, nurses wield significant power when changing health policy and boosting care standards.