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How Nurse Advocates Protect Patient Health

Written by: North Carolina Central University   •  Jan 26, 2024

A team of nurses sitting with a doctor and a lawyer in a conference room.

How Nurse Advocates Protect Patient Health

Health advocacy aims to ensure better overall outcomes for all patients, regardless of their economic status, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or geographic location. All health care providers serve as advocates in some regard, but nurse advocates dedicate their careers to defending the rights of patients and ensuring that they receive quality care. 

From talking to patients and their families about the patients’ diagnoses to petitioning legislators for policies that safeguard human rights, nurse advocates ensure that the voices of patients are heard. An online Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) degree program can provide aspiring advocates with the skills and knowledge they need to make a real impact on the health care industry.

What’s a Nurse Advocate?

Advocacy can be defined as the act of supporting or recommending a policy, a cause, or an act that benefits the public at large. In health care, nurse advocates support patients by informing them and their families of their rights, protecting those rights, and supporting policies that promote health equity. They may also advocate for patients to receive optimal care and connect patients with relevant or necessary resources. 

Tasks and Responsibilities

The tasks and responsibilities of nurse advocates can vary depending on their employers and locations. The most common duties tend to include the following:

  • Assisting patients with securing community resources
  • Serving as liaisons between patients and their families, doctors and other health care providers, and insurance companies
  • Addressing the cultural or religious needs of patients
  • Listening to the concerns of patients and working with doctors and other members of the health care team to ensure the best possible quality of care
  • Recommending treatments or tests that best address the diagnoses and concerns of their patients
  • Assessing the needs of patients and their families and creating plans that address them
  • Helping patients understand and maximize their health insurance benefits 
  • Assisting patients with understanding their medical bills and communicating with their insurance providers to ensure billing accuracy

Work Environment

Nurse advocates work in nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, clinics, nonprofit organizations, outpatient care centers, and hospitals. Some choose to work exclusively in hospice, mental health care, and correctional facility settings, and some work exclusively with patients who are terminally ill. While most work directly for a health care provider or a nursing agency, some choose to work in their own private practices. 

How to Become a Nurse Advocate

Nurses are some of the most trusted and impactful health care providers in the lives of their patients. A solid foundation in clinical nursing, health care policy, and professional ethics can help nurses advocate for better policies and treatments. As such, aspiring nurse advocates must obtain the proper education, credentials, and work experience to thrive in this role.

Get the Proper Education

Nurse advocates must be licensed RNs. Candidates should earn an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a BSN degree and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). According to a 2021 study published in Research in Nursing & Health, the employment of baccalaureate-educated nurses has been on the rise since 2006, and it has drastically improved patient outcomes across the board. As a result, RNs with BSN degrees tend to enjoy better employment opportunities and higher salaries. 

Obtain Relevant Credentials

All nurse advocates must hold an active, unrestricted RN license valid in their state of practice. The Patient Advocate Certification Board (PACB) offers the optional Board Certified Patient Advocate (BCPA) credential, which demonstrates a commitment to advocacy and adherence to PACB standards. 

Gain Work Experience

Two to four years of hands-on experience in a health care setting, such as a hospital or a clinic, is crucial for nurse advocates. This experience allows them to better understand how the health care system works and the role that nurses play in the overall care of patients. 

Develop Key Skills

Nurse advocates rely on several important skills to help them protect the rights of their patients and ensure high-quality health care. Below are some essential skills.

Communication Skills

Communication is at the heart of patient advocacy. It allows for clear communication with patients and their families, other health care providers, and even policymakers who can influence the delivery of care. Active listening skills, empathy, and the establishment of rapport are vital for developing good working relationships. 

Leadership Skills

Nurse advocates are leaders who use their knowledge to influence others in ways that promote exceptional health care. They must be confident in their abilities, and they must feel comfortable empowering and motivating those they work with, including their patients, organizations, and health care providers. 

Conflict Resolution

Every nurse advocate will face some sort of disagreement or dispute between patients and caregivers, health care providers, or insurance companies. Conflict resolution skills are important for avoiding potential disputes and addressing them when they arise. Nurse advocates should be skilled in mediation and negotiation to reach peaceful and respectful solutions. 

Critical Thinking

Nurse advocates must be able to assess situations, identify issues, and work with patients and health care providers to develop and implement solutions. Critical thinking skills allow nurse advocates to make informed decisions in the best interests of their patients, and they even allow them to address policies that may adversely impact patient care. 

Cultural Awareness and Competence

Nurse advocates work closely with people from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Cultural competence and awareness help nurse advocates better understand the viewpoints of their patients and allow them to develop appropriate strategies that meet the holistic needs of their patients. 

Safeguard Patients’ Rights and Improve Outcomes in Health Care

Nurse advocates work to keep patients informed of their rights, promote ethical and socially just causes, and bridge the gap between patients and policymakers in ways that improve patient outcomes. 

If you’re passionate about ensuring health equity and facilitating more positive outcomes, the online RN to BSN program from North Carolina Central University can provide you with the skills and education you need to thrive. Discover how you can make a true impact on the delivery of quality care as a nurse advocate. 

Recommended Readings:

Famous Black Nurses in History

How to Measure Health Equity

Nurse Manager Salary and Job Description


American Nurses Association, Nurses in the Workforce

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, “The Future of Nursing 2020-2030: Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity”

Nursing Management and Professional Concepts, “Chapter 10 – Advocacy”

Patient Advocate Certification Board, PACB Board Certification for Professional Patient and Health Care Advocates

Research in Nursing & Health, “Changes in Proportion of Bachelor’s Nurses Associated With Improvements in Patient Outcomes”

StatPearls, “Nursing Advocacy”

The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, “Overview and Summary: Nurses’ Impact on Advocacy and Policy”

Trusted Health, What Is a Nurse Advocate?

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