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The Role of a Nurse in Patient Advocacy

patient advocacyBy: Sarah Stasik

Patient advocacy is a huge part of a nurse’s job, and it’s called for by codes of ethics from both the American Nurses Association and the International Council of Nurses. 

But not all nurses may know exactly what’s expected of them, and process and facility barriers can make advocacy more difficult.

Learn more about patient advocacy nursing and how it plays an important role in your career. 

[RELATED: How to Build Rapport with Patients: 7 Effective Tips for RNs]

What is Patient Advocacy? 

While the concept of advocacy may seem simple, advocating for a patient as a nurse is rarely a cut-and-dried matter.

To advocate means to plead on someone’s behalf, assist an individual or defend a person’s rights or decisions, all of which nurses do. 

Professor Robert Hanks from the Houston School of Nursing points out that it’s not that simple, though.

In an article for American Nursing Today, he notes that nurses have to:

  • Let patients make their own educated decisions
  • Support the patient through the decision-making process
  • Act a liaison between the patient and other caregivers or the system in general

Ultimately, advocacy is about supporting the patient, not by making decisions for him or her, but by equipping patients to make their own decisions.

Then, nurses should act within their own professional ethics to promote for those decisions when the patient can’t do it alone.

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What challenges do nurses experience when advocating for patients?

Obviously, patients aren’t always going to make decisions that you agree with, and they might even make decisions that are dangerous. 

Outside of certain mental health situations involving court orders or emergency rooms, where patients may arrive unconscious and without next of kin, healthcare providers have to honor patient decisions.

While nurses can provide education and advice, they have to refrain from inappropriate pressure, and that can be difficult when you want to ensure a good outcome.

Facility and process barriers can also create challenges to effective patient advocacy. 

Nurses who must abide by very specific care instructions across an entire ward or who have an overwhelming patient load can’t provide the personal care necessary to develop a proper advocate relationship.

Some facilities may also discourage nurses from speaking up to other providers on a patient’s behalf, and even if they don’t, nurses might be hesitant to voice information or opinions that seem to contradict a coworker’s. 

That’s even more true if the communication bucks organizational hierarchy.

Facing patient advocacy nursing challenges

Patient advocacy isn’t usually easy or comfortable for a nurse, but it’s definitely part of the responsibility that comes with your license. 

Here are some tips to dealing with common patient advocacy nursing challenges:

  • Listen actively to the patient so you know what their desires are
  • Speak tactfully and plan before you speak when possible
  • Stand up for your patient and be confident in your position
  • Make sure others know you are communicating on behalf of the patient and not voicing your own choices
  • Seek your own advocate or mentor, so you have support for your position or someone to talk to when you’re not sure what actions to take

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