Advocacy is considered by many to be an ethic of nursing practice and is at the core of the nursing profession. Faced with an increasingly complex and fragmented health care system, patients and families often find themselves overwhelmed and lacking the essential information they need to make informed choices. Such vulnerability is cited as a key reason for advocacy at the microsocial level — where individual patient needs are addressed and nurses are more directly involved in care. At the macrosocial level, which takes into consideration a broader range of social issues, health disparity is viewed as a significant driver for advocacy. Here, efforts to champion social justice help to ensure that every person has access to the health care they need.
With advanced education and extensive experience caring for patients and their families, family nurse practitioners are equipped to serve as advocates by providing a much-needed voice for patients, their communities, their profession, and perhaps just as important, themselves. Here are some examples of how nurses are serving as advocates on a variety of levels.
For Their Patients
While patient advocacy has long been viewed as an essential part of nursing, some experts cite the need for a better understanding of exactly what that entails. In a recent article for Nursing Standard, the authors of “Patient Advocacy: The Role of the Nurse” outline various factors that affect advocacy efforts, as well as specific ways nurses directly advocate for their patients within the health care setting. These include protecting patients from harm; communicating patient preferences; fostering collaboration; providing essential information to inform decision-making; and supporting the voice of the patient regarding choices and care.
For Their Communities
In their communities, nurses advocate for the needs of patients and their families by using their expertise to persuade those in positions of authority regarding economic matters, as well as issues in the educational and health care systems. Nurses also directly advocate for patients in specific instances where a need is apparent. Examples include sharing stories regarding health care costs with community leaders and elected officials; providing information regarding available community resources; improving access to care within the school system; and providing expertise in public forums related to the expansion of a community’s health care infrastructure.
For Policy Change
Many nurses who work at the microsocial level may feel intimidated by policy advocacy and may not know how to get involved. However, their expertise carries significant weight. As the American Nurses Association (ANA) notes, at 3.4 million, nurses make up the largest single group of health professionals. That translates to significant potential influence at all levels of government.
In addition to all of these efforts, nurses are learning to advocate more effectively for themselves. They’re doing this through a variety of activities to address concerns in the workplace, promote positive work environments, and advocate for the important role that nurses play within the health care system. Examples include membership on key practice committees; participating in activities that influence decision-making; participating in employee forums; mentoring new nurses; and collaborating with nursing leaders regarding decisions that directly affect the practice environment.
For the Nursing Profession
Every nurse has the opportunity to advocate for the nursing profession in both formal and informal ways. By acting collectively, nurses advocate for improvements in their work settings and for the advancement of the profession as a whole — and one key for success is taking advantage of every opportunity to do it. Examples include describing the strengths of the profession and positive impact on patient outcomes; explaining the specific and independent practice responsibilities involved; supporting the important role of nurse educators; and obtaining advanced education and training to help lead advocacy efforts within the nursing profession.