Career Pathways & Education

What Does a Nurse Advocate Do? 

The Trusted Team
July 29, 2020
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What are the typical responsibilities of a Nurse Advocate?

The responsibilities of a Nurse Advocate should sound very familiar to anyone who knows about nursing! All nurses are advocates. Consider this role a focus into a specific part of any nurses job. No matter the speciality or setting, nurses are always advocating. 

As a Nurse Advocate, the nurse focuses on these skills and applies them in a specific way. Nurse Advocates act as the eyes and ears of the patient and family members. They are sometimes used as a sort of medical translator, gathering information and data from the whole care team. They then present the information to the patient and family in a comprehensive way that is free from medical jargon that easily confuses. 

They also act as a constant in an ever changing care team. They work to bring the interdisciplinary team together to work as a cohesive machine that is unrelentlessly focused on the goals of the patient. If the care team gets off track or lacks in communication, the Nurse Advocate works to bring everyone back together. Nurse Advocates can also be seen as care navigators. 

The health care system is complex and Nurse Advocates can be used as a guide. When a patient or family is not familiar with the health care system and all the different methods of care, the Nurse Advocate can work to guide them and direct them to resources. 

speech bubble with ellipsis in it nurse advocacy

What should nurses entering this specialty expect to encounter on a regular basis?

Before entering this speciality, nurses should be prepared to encounter and navigate many difficult situations and conversations. From patients and family receiving bad news to doctors disagreeing with each other, emotions can run high and the Nurse Advocate should be ready to serve as a grounder for all involved. Communication skills are key in this role. The Nurse Advocate should be prepared to ask questions that elicit information, use that information to access situations and then communicate that assessment back to both the patient and the care team. 

The Nurse Advocate should also be flexible and able to easily switch from complex medical conversations with the care team to explanations of these issues in layman’s terms. In order to do this, the nurse should be highly clinically experienced and have a deep understanding of conditions and treatment options within their speciality.

My experience as a Nurse Advocate

Working as a Nurse Advocate is very challenging but can be highly rewarding. I found a need for prioritization and remembering your focus. With a lot of information and viewpoints being thrown at you, it is important to focus on the patient and their needs. 

At the end of the day you are advocating for them and what they view is best. It has been important to set my personal thoughts aside in favor of honoring the patient and their wishes. 

The most rewarding part is seeing the impact that you are able to have. When considering what the outcome may have been if you were not involved as an advocate, the “why” behind going to work everyday becomes very clear. 

What are some of the benefits of working as a Nurse Advocate?

The benefits of working as a Nurse Advocate are limitless! I have found this profession to be incredibly rewarding. Working as a nurse in a hospital you can have conflicting priorities. While the patient remains the focus, you have to consider hospital policy, charting, hospital politics, and other distractions that can take time away from the patient. 

As a Nurse Advocate, your focus is always the patient. You often follow them from hospital to doctor’s office and beyond so it becomes less about the distractions and more about the patient. As a Nurse Advocate, you are also able to see and enjoy the bigger picture. Working in the hospital you are often focused on one of the patient’s issues and an acute problem. 

You truly get the chance to see the patient holistically and have the opportunity to use your expertise to analyze that holistic picture and come up with a care plan for them. Seeing that care plan be carried out and the impact that it can have is priceless. 

What are some of the not-so-great parts of working as a Nurse Advocate?

Being a Nurse Advocate can be incredibly emotionally draining. While you do get the opportunity to care deeply and individually about patients and families, this can take a toll on a person emotionally. You also often see and work with patients who have complex and life altering conditions. While it is great to see your patients improve during the time you work with them, it is equally as hard to watch their condition decline. 

In order to be successful as a Nurse Advocate, you must care deeply but a direct result of that can be hurting deeply as well. Another downside of being a Nurse Advocate is the difficult conversations you may need to have. At times, you will need to go to bat for your patients. Whether that is a tough conversation with a doctor or negotiation with an insurance company, hard conversations are bound to happen in this role. 

raised hand in front of blurred background nurse advocate

Share your favorite piece of advice for nursing new grads or students looking to become a Nurse Advocate

My biggest piece of advice for new grads or students looking to become a Nurse Advocate is to “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” This does not mean showing up to your shift in the ICU dressed in a pantsuit, this simply means if you want to be a Nurse Advocate, be one! (It also doesn't hurt to work on your professional online presence!)

Start now in whatever role you have; put the patient first and learn what you need to know to create the best care plan for them. If you start now in your current or future bedside role, the transition to being a Nurse Advocate by title will be effortless and an easy decision to make!

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