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What is Nursing Advocacy?

By Donn Saylor
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Nursing advocacy is the practice of promoting patient rights, making improvements in the healthcare industry, and portraying a positive image of the nursing community. While some nurses work primarily as advocates to advance these aspects of the profession, all nurses are to some extent nursing advocates. The nurse's role as caretaker and protector of patients is a cornerstone of nursing ethics, and every nurse works at some level to improve patient care and ensure a patient's needs are being met.

From a very basic perspective, a nursing advocate ensures the voice of the patient is being heard and respected. In this role as patient advocate, the nurse guarantees the decisions and needs of his or her patients are the primary concern of the doctors and other healthcare professionals. The advocate often makes certain standard procedures and medical ethics are followed and may serve as a liaison between the doctor and the patient or the patient's loved ones.

Nursing advocacy is not limited to the hospital room, however. Nursing advocates have a powerful voice in the formation of healthcare policy and frequently lead or take part in campaigns to further the ethical and safety aspects of patient care. To achieve these ends, some advocates become involved in political action, lending an insider's view of the industry and pinpointing those areas that need to be changed. Others stay within the nursing community and serve as teachers, conducting conferences and seminars for their fellow nurses on ways to improve nursing practices.

Maintaining a positive image for nurses is another key part of nursing advocacy. This entails making certain those in the nursing profession are portrayed properly in the media. Nursing advocates may be called upon to take on the film and television industries in an attempt to enhance the reputation of nurses and the respectability of the vocation.

The women and men who work in nursing advocacy often face an uphill battle. The healthcare industry—from hospitals and clinics to insurance companies and government-sponsored programs—are typically comprised of complicated bureaucracies and chains of command. When serving as a medical advocate, the nurse can face a certain amount of resistance from others in the industry. Doctors may disagree with a nurse's findings, loved ones may argue with a patient's care plan, and leaders and lawmakers may find a nurse's demands politically unfavorable. These challenges must be confronted head-on by nurses and nursing advocates to advance the compassion and levels of care available to all patients.

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Discussion Comments

By SZapper — On Aug 21, 2011

@sunnySkys - In that incident, the nurse clearly did have a better handle on thing than the doctor. I don't think it's fair to say that's usually the case though.

Doctors go to years and years of school, compared to nurses who normally only have two years of higher education. I'm glad nurses are there to advocate for the patient in cases like yours, but I don't think the situation you described is the norm.

By sunnySkys — On Aug 20, 2011

I have to say that I think sometimes nurses have their act together more than doctors, especially the RNs. I actually had an experience with a nurse acting as a patient advocate recently.

My boyfriend was very sick so I took him to urgent care. When the doctor came in to treat him, the doctor barely listened to me when I was describing his symptoms and hardly noticed how sick my boyfriend was. He was going to give him a shot of something and just send him home without doing any tests.

Luckily, the RN walked into the room for something around the time the doctor was describing his care plan. The nurse took one look at my boyfriend and said, "Doctor, I think this man needs to go to the ER." The doctor took her suggestion and recommended the ER.

Honestly, even if the doctor didn't agree I was getting ready to take him there anyway. And it was a good thing, because my boyfriend had meningitis! He clearly needed further tests, not just a shot of something and to be sent home. I'm so glad that nurse was there to act as our advocate.

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