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How Nurses Can Advocate For Safety

Aug 16, 2022
Kasee Wiesen DNP, APRN, FNP-C

How Nurses Can Advocate For The Safety of Patients & Themselves

An advocate is a person who supports and stands up for another person, idea, or plan. This is quite a responsibility,yet many nurses firmly believe one of the most significant pieces of their role is to advocate for their patient's health, safety, and well-being. Unfortunately, many nurses may forget the importance of advocating for themselves, too.

In this article, we’ll discuss what it means to advocate for safety, and why this is important as a clinician. We will also provide examples of how nurses can advocate for their patients, other nurses, and themselves throughout your career.

What it means to be an advocate for safety

An advocate for safety in healthcare is someone who speaks up to promote a safe environment and culture in their practice, facility, and profession. A safety advocate does not back down from doing the right thing, even in the face of adversity. And the strongest advocates in healthcare are nurses who are a voice for their patients and colleagues when they see unsafe practices. Many times, nurses advocate for others without even realizing they are doing so.

Nurses advocate for safety every day in both big and small ways. For example, they identify and fix unsafe practices—seeking clarification on an order or inappropriate dose of a medication, noticing when patients aren’t wearing non-slick socks when ambulating, residents entering the room, and not washing their hands. Nurses will also speak to a patient in terms they understand, ensuring understanding of a new or chronic diagnosis, medications prescribed, or an upcoming procedure. They will ask for consults and pain medication when needed. Nurses will spend the extra time fully listening to patients and their fears and answering their questions as best they can. In each of these ways, and many more, nurses are already taking on the mantle of an advocate

Some key benefits of advocating for safety

So, who actually benefits from nurses as advocates? Everyone! The patient, family, nurses, other healthcare providers, and the healthcare facility or hospital all benefit. The benefits are numerous when nurses take on this role. For example:

  • Fewer medication errors
  • Fewer falls
  • Respect for patient’s autonomy
  • Improved health outcomes due to a better understanding of instructions, diagnoses, and treatment plans.
  • Better staffing ratios
  • Breaks are enforced on the medical floors
  • Less burnout among the healthcare providers
  • Possible financial benefits for the hospital

And this list can go on and on—but as you can see, everyone benefits when advocating for safety is in place.  

Benefits of Advocating for Safety

How to be an advocate for patients

One of a nurse’s top priorities is to advocate for patient's safety. This is an important role for the nurse, as it helps ensure the patient's care is safe and of the highest quality possible.   

So how can a nurse advocate for their patients?

  • Educate: Knowledge is power. Nurses spend much of their day educating patients and family members on their diagnoses, medications, and possible side effects. They will review signs and symptoms of alarm and who to call when these symptoms occur. The nurse can deliver this information verbally, through easy-to-read handouts written in a way the patient and family understand, and even visually through videos or in-person demonstrations. 
  • Promote safety: Nurses can advocate for their patients by identifying and speaking up against unsafe practices. This may mean clarifying a medication order or placing the bed rails up on a patient who is a fall risk. A nurse can also advocate safety by encouraging proper hand hygiene, ensuring sterile field protocols, and wiping down multi-use equipment before bringing it into another patient's room. 
  • Be a voice for the patient: Providing a voice for the patient can be done in many ways. Sometimes, it is literal- asking for an order to make a non-verbal patient more comfortable. If a patient about to have surgery appears hesitant or unsure about an upcoming procedure--the nurse may ask the surgeon to return and answer the patient's questions. This simple act of speaking up for patients can leave a lasting, positive impact on health and well-being. 

How to be an advocate for other nurses

Nurses do not only advocate for their patients but also for their nurse colleagues. This is important to help with nursing retention, nursing satisfaction, and the performance of safe practices. How do nurses promote advocacy for their colleagues? 

  • Mentoring other nurses: Being a mentor for other nurses is a great way to advocate for other nurses. Mentoring provides a safe place for a nurse to ask questions and seek advice on handling various situations. This creates a culture of peer support, and leads to patients receiving high-quality, safe care.
  • Joining committees within the organization: Joining committees within one’s organization is a great way to advocate for other nurses. These committees are often where organizational changes are made. This could be a peer committee on the unit, or a larger interprofessional organization. There are ways to advocate for nurses at all levels. 
  • Join professional organizations: Nurses can take it to the next level and join professional organizations. This is where nurses can make changes that may impact the entire culture and practice of nursing. Participation in these organizations includes paying the annual dues, attending webinars and conferences, or actively supporting legislation positively supporting nurses and healthcare. 

How to be an advocate for yourself

If nurses do not care for themselves, it may negatively impact the care they deliver.

It is not only important for nurses to advocate for others, but they must also advocate for themselves. This can be challenging for many nurses, however, it is essential. If nurses do not care for themselves, it may negatively impact the care they deliver. Advocating for oneself may also create a less stressful, more positive work environment leading to greater job satisfaction. So, how exactly can nurses advocate for themselves?

  • Leave the unit for lunch: Leaving the unit for lunch may not seem like much, but getting off the floor can help you clear the mind and provide an actual break from the day. This can be re-energizing, relaxing, and refreshing. Plus, allows for full enjoyment of the break without interruption and being asked to return early. 
  • Safe work environment: Advocating for a safe work environment is incredibly important—this includes safe staffing ratios, mandatory breaks, and protection from workplace violence. 
  • Join committees within the organization: Joining them is important for self-advocacy, just like peer advocacy. Nurses must be represented throughout medical boards to share their thoughts, recommendations, and experiences. This is a huge step in moving nursing forward.

Learn more about advocacy with Trusted Health

Learn how to be an effective advocate for the safety of patients, other nurses, & yourself with Trusted Health. Trusted Health has nurse advocates available to answer your questions—demonstrating nurses advocating for other nurses! Other resources include joining forums to ask questions and connect with other nurses, which may help bring a new perspective to a challenging issue at work. There are also blog posts on leadership and many other fantastic resources to support advocacy and the delivery of safe care in nursing!

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