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Nurse Advocate Career Overview

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Nurse advocates — often called patient advocates — primarily guide patients as they navigate the healthcare system. They often liaise between patients and physicians, advocating on behalf of patients to find suitable treatments.

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Nurse Advocate Career in Brief

adn or bsn required
certification options

The American healthcare system can seem confusing and overwhelming, especially to patients already struggling with serious illnesses. Nurse advocates help their patients understand this complex system, and they work as a liaison between patients and their healthcare team. While all nurses advocate for their patients, nurses who take on a patient advocacy role share these specific responsibilities:

Primary Responsibilities

  • Educate patients on their illness and potential treatments so they can make informed decisions
  • Use their understanding of nursing law and ethics to advocate on behalf of the patient
  • Address any cultural or religious needs of the patient
  • Help patients understand their medical bills; communicate with insurance companies to make sure patients are billed accurately

Key Skills

  • Communication and listening skills
  • Ability to speak up confidently to people in leadership
  • Negotiating skills
  • Advanced knowledge of nursing law and ethics

Certification Option: Board Certified Patient Advocate

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Where Do Nurse Advocates Work?

Nurse advocate jobs can be found in the same settings as other nurse jobs: hospitals, doctors’ clinics, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, outpatient care centers, and other healthcare facilities. Advocates may also work at correctional facilities or with the terminally ill, helping them seek treatment or make decisions about goals of care and death with dignity. Below is a list of common workplace settings and nurse advocate duties.


Hospitals


Nurse advocates speak as a liaison among physicians, families, and patients regarding treatment, educate patients on their illness, and help patients understand their medical bills.


Long-term Care Centers


Nurse advocates can help people with terminal illnesses or the elderly make end-of-life care decisions.


Outpatient Care Centers


Nurse advocates typically explain or clarify patients’ rights, educate patients about their conditions, handle complaints, and advance patients’ interests to insurance providers.


Why Become a Nurse Advocate?

As with any job, it is vital to consider the pros and cons of a certain career path before committing to it. Check out the advantages and disadvantages below.

Advantages to Becoming a Nurse Advocate

  • Many nurse advocates feel they are making a tangible difference in patients’ lives, standing up for their rights and concerns.
  • Nurse advocates develop a unique skill set with an advanced knowledge of nursing law and ethics, which can help in other areas.
  • Nurse advocates develop meaningful relationships with patients and their families.
  • There is room for career growth as advocates can potentially progress to become nurse attorneys.

Disadvantages to Becoming a Nurse Advocate

  • Research has shown that nurses can feel a sense of powerlessness when speaking up in some healthcare settings.
  • Research also demonstrates that hospitals sometimes offer limited support for nurse advocates.
  • Advocating on behalf of patients can be mentally and emotionally exhausting.

How to Become a Nurse Advocate

Earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN).
Either a two-year ADN or four-year BSN prepares students for a nursing career through lectures in the sciences, hands-on labs, and clinical rotations.

Pass the NCLEX-RN to receive registered nurse (RN) licensure.
The National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN) evaluates whether nursing candidates are prepared to work as RNs. If test-takers pass, they can apply for RN licensure from their state licensing boards.

Consider completing patient advocacy training.
Nursing degrees do not always offer classes or specializations in nurse advocacy, so post college training can equip students with the skills they need to pursue this career. Program lengths vary but can take about 7-9 months.

Become a board certified patient advocate.
This board certification is not necessary to become a nurse or patient advocate. However, it can help advocates early in their career to practice with authority.

How Much Do Nurse Advocates Make?

On average, nurse advocates earn an annual salary of $72,240. That data from PayScale is on par with the median salary for RNs — about $73,300 in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Actual salaries can vary considerably based on location, experience, employer, and education level. PayScale data also shows that, when it comes to total yearly earnings, nurse advocate salaries range from $41,000-$94,000.

Nurses in general can look forward to a positive job outlook. The BLS projects that the number of nurses could increase by 7% from 2019 to 2029, an increase of about 222,000 positions within that decade.

Find State-Specific Salary Data Here

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the nurse's role in patient advocacy?

    Patients have the right to make their own decisions about their health, but it can sometimes seem difficult when physicians and families put forward their own opinions. Nurses listen to and advocate for their patients in this clamor of advice and opinions. Nurse advocates also facilitate an open dialogue with patients, educating them about their condition and treatment options.

  • What does it mean to advocate for patients?

    Nurses often build closer relationships with their patients than physicians do; they care for them and administer medications day after day. This means that they have a better understanding of patients, their values, religious beliefs, cultural considerations, and what treatments might best suit their conditions — not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. Therefore, they can represent their patients’ best interests when determining treatments and medications.

  • How do nurse advocates advance patients' interests?

    Nurse advocates may speak on behalf of patients to the physician or other healthcare team members. They can also serve as a liaison between patients and their families, especially when their interests clash. Nurse advocates often promote policies in local, state, and federal government, arguing for laws that best serve patients.

  • What are the requirements to become a nurse advocate?

    First, nurse advocates must earn a degree in nursing and obtain RN licensure. While all nurses should technically work as advocates for their patients, nurse advocates often receive more professional training by earning an additional certification such as the Board Certified Patient Advocate credential and completing a program in patient advocacy.

Resources for Nurse Advocates


  • The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates The APHA provides support to private, independent patient advocates. The alliance offers legal services and professional development for nurses in the field. Members can take advantage of networking opportunities, conferences, and other events or resources. The group also runs the APHA Academy which trains nurses on how to start their own practices as patient advocates.
  • Nurse Advocacy Association This association is not just for nurses who advocate on behalf of patients, but also those who advocate for the nursing industry in general. The group takes positions on several healthcare issues, like management and the national nursing shortage, and it campaigns for those policies. Members can participate through volunteer work, research projects, or joining their local chapters.
  • National Patient Advocate Foundation This foundation takes advocacy for patients to the policy level, with members working locally, regionally, and nationally. Healthcare professionals of all types can join, advocating for issues like improving healthcare access in rural communities and reducing the cost of care for patients. Members can also learn about skilled communications through regular workshops.
  • RN Patient Advocates Patients can contact this group of RNs for guidance or advocacy within the healthcare system. Nurses can join and provide services such as reviewing medical records, providing health and wellness training, and educating patients on their treatment options.

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Portrait of Anna-Lise Krippaehne, DNP, FNP-BC

Anna-Lise Krippaehne, DNP, FNP-BC

Anna-Lise Krippaehne, DNP, FNP-BC is a recent graduate from the University of Portland’s doctor of nursing practice program. She received her bachelor’s in nursing science from the University of Portland in 2012 and worked in acute care providing bedside nursing on a general surgical unit for eight years at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, Washington before pursuing her doctorate.

Krippaehne has also assisted in teaching new graduate nurses through simulation experiences with Swedish’s Nurse Residency Program and contributed to several quality improvement projects during her tenure. She will soon begin her first position on faculty as a board certified family nurse practitioner at Oregon Health & Science University’s family practice department in Portland, Oregon.

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