Nurses play a crucial role in the US healthcare system. Aside from the care, expertise, and experience they bring to any medical environment, it is also their advocacy that shapes and improves patient care. Nurses have a unique understanding of patient care, as they spend so much time at bedsides during their training and as their careers progress. Therefore, they are in an ideal position to stand up for patients and improve their health outcomes.
This article explores the role of advocacy in nursing in more detail.
How to become a nurse advocate
Advocacy is a very rewarding experience that is part of being a nurse and one of the reasons many people choose to train for a role in healthcare. Traditionally, it would have taken three years to qualify, but to meet the growing demand for more medical staff, online universities, such as Rockhurst University, have designed accelerated programs. These can often be completed in around 16 months and include on-campus residencies to equip students with real-world experience.
Through the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) at Rockhurst University, graduates with a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated discipline can enroll and train to become a healthcare professional. Tuition is provided by an experienced faculty and when the course ends, future nurses are coached through their nursing licensure exam, before becoming registered to practice. Once they have completed this process successfully, nurses will be ready to play their part in advocating for patients.
What does advocacy mean in nursing?
Nurses speak up for patients who may struggle to find their voice in a hectic medical environment, they look out for the interests of the people in their care and offer guidance where necessary. Nurses are often the first healthcare personnel that patients will speak to when they arrive at a ward, and they are a continued presence as they progress in their recovery. As a result, nurses understand how a patient feels, what they need, and what they hope for. They ensure care is personalized for individual needs and preferences. Moreover, through their various forms of advocacy work, nurses can tackle any problems patients may experience in getting the care they want. This is also known as patient-centered care.
Keeping patients safe
Nurses keep their patients safe by spotting any risks or dangers that they could be exposed to, and seeking ways to ensure they do not come to harm. This will involve checking that a medication order is correct, confirming what, if any, allergies a patient has, and administering drugs appropriately. Furthermore, they will ensure any documentation, such as the patient’s Electronic Health Record (EHR), is completed thoroughly and accurately. This includes writing up details of all care that has been given, explaining the interventions that took place, and noting whether these resulted in a change in the patient’s condition. Advocacy is not always about public actions, it can also be about the quieter, more subtle aspects of great nursing, such as completing a concise and true record of each patient’s health journey.
Enabling patient autonomy
When patients have all the information about their condition and treatment, they can make informed decisions about their care. Moreover, they can make requests or ask questions to ensure any procedures that take place align with their personal preferences and values. Nurses advocate for patient autonomy by explaining complex medical terms and setting out the patient’s options in plain language. This enables the patient to take a more active role by making decisions in collaboration with senior clinicians.
Furthermore, by incorporating this form of advocacy into their practice, nurses remain informed on the most up-to-date research and clinical guidelines. Once they have digested the information, they can break it down for patients. They can explain all the possible risks and whether there are any alternatives to a particular treatment, for example. As a result of their efforts, the patient understands the reality of what could happen before they agree or disagree.
Giving vulnerable patients a voice on the ward
Some patients feel unable to disagree with their doctor and are too intimidated to ask the questions that are bothering them. Nurses can advocate for these more vulnerable people by staying close by when a diagnosis is given and speaking up for the patient when they need answers from a specialist. This form of advocacy is part of protecting the rights of each patient through finding out what their wishes are, and then supporting them. This might include explaining how the patient feels to another health professional or, in some cases, a member of the patient’s family.
Providing resources when patients are discharged
Once their recovery is on track, patients will be discharged from the ward. Nurses advocate for them even at this late stage by signposting the resources that could be of use, both inside the facility and in the community. From caregiver support groups to transport links and financial assistance, there are various ways a patient’s needs can be met when they return home. If they need a more advanced level of assistance, nurses can liaise with social workers to ensure the patient has the care they need in place when they get home.
Advocating for the benefit of all patients in the US healthcare system
Advocacy will always be a central part of what nurses do, and they can get involved with this form of action in many practical ways. However, it is also about speaking up for patients in meetings and when contacting other healthcare professionals, to ensure each patient receives a high standard of care and the swiftest possible recovery. By advocating for patients daily, nurses do not simply optimize the care of an individual. Instead, acting collectively, they have a significant impact on the health policies and all patient outcomes at their facility.