Nurse advocates liaise between patients and the physicians who treat them. They help patients gain a greater understanding of their medical condition as diagnosed by their doctors and help them to make the right decisions for their future health. Every patient is unique and different, has his own beliefs and has certain preferences. Unfortunately, this means that it is not uncommon to encounter some conflict between the patient as an individual and what the doctor has ordered him to do. A nurse advocate is there to find alternative treatment solutions that work for both parties.
As such, the job is highly multifaceted. Furthermore, it is structured and allows you to work directly with patients. It is a managerial role that focuses strongly on research. It is a very interesting career that is perfectly suited to someone who wants to really help people achieve optimum health.
The Education Pathways
In order to become a Nurse Advocate, you must first obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. This can be done as a four-year degree, although there are also accelerated programs and programs for those who already hold a BSN in a non-nursing field, which take between one and two years. Once you have obtained your BSN degree, you must apply to take part in the NCLEX-RN exam and pass it, which will allow you to work as a registered nurse. From thereon, you can engage in continuous education to become a nurse advocate.
Nurse advocacy is incredibly diverse. It looks at medicine, research, social work, patient education and insurance, for instance. There is no official Nurse Advocate degree, nor are there any specific standards or curriculum. It is about making the effort yourself to become an expert in the different fields needed to advocate patient care. There are a number of courses available, however, that will prepare you for this role.
- Health Care Liaison Inc.. This program trains you in discharge planning, family assistance, communication strategy, health care advocacy, insurance systems, cross-cultural issues, and end-of-life decision making.
- RN Patient Advocates, PLLC. This is a program designed for registered nurses, allowing them to become independent patient advocates. Only a limited number of places are available on this course each year.
There are various online options available for all elements of your educational pathway. Some schools offer the BSN program online, for instance, although it is important to remember that becoming a nurse requires a hands-on approach. Hence, students will usually be required to take part in regular practicums as well. However, a good online school will work with you to make sure that this can be done in your own geographical location. Furthermore, the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates offers a full list of programs for nurse advocates in particular that are available online.
To become a Nurse Advocate, you must be an RN, which means you have to follow the licensing requirements for this profession. Every state is governed by a Nursing Board, and their goal is to make sure that patients are protected from medical incompetence. However, they achieve this in different ways, so you should check the requirements as set out by your own state board of nursing. Certain elements are always included, however, such as:
- Setting license requirements in terms of obtaining the initial license and retaining it. This means you have to meet certain educational standards, that you have to be committed to continuing professional education, that you develop competency and so on.
- Decide what the parameters of the job of a nurse are. This is determined in the Nurse Practice Act, which each state has.
- Working with complaints made either against or by those who hold a license. The State Board also deals with disciplinary actions.
Prerequisites for Study
To become a nurse advocate, you will need to have at least a BSN degree and have passed the NCLEX-RN exam. To achieve this, a number of standards are common, which include:
- Having a GPA of between 2.0 and 3.5
- Having certain scores on your ACT or SAT
- Passing certain courses, such as math, English and science
- TOEFL for those who have English as a second language
It is incredibly important that any courses you take part in are accredited. This is true for your BSN, as you will struggle to be accepted on the NCLEX-RN without accreditation, but it is also true for any future courses you take in order to become a nurse advocate. If a course is not accredited, it will not count towards your continuous education, which means you will struggle to renew your license when the time comes. The main accrediting bodies for nursing education are:
- The Accreditation Commission For Education in Nursing (ACEN)
- The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
Getting Certified as a Nurse Advocate
There is no certification specific for a nurse advocate, although more and more programs are being developed. As such, certification is the same as what it is for a registered nurse, which is set out in the NCLEX-RN. This focuses on four specific areas:
- Creating an environment for patients and carers that is safe and effective. This includes the control of infections.
- Having psychological integrity, meaning you are able to cope with the demands of the job and adapt to the changing world of healthcare provision.
- Promoting and maintaining better health, which is about early intervention and preventative techniques.
- Physiological integrity, which means you always strive to keep patients happy and comfortable.
The Cost of Becoming a Nurse Advocate
The cost of becoming a nurse advocate varies. Firstly, it will depend on the education pathway you choose to become a registered nurse. If you opt for the full BSN pathway, you can expect to pay around $31,000 per school year, although this can be cheaper if you study online or opt for accelerated programs. Because there is no official nurse advocate degree, but you will need to take part in different courses in order to be accepted to this position, you will need to factor in higher costs for continuous education. However, different schools offer different programs at different fees.
Scholarship and Financial Aid
There is a huge demand for health care professionals, which means it is generally possible to apply for scholarships or financial aid, at least for your BSN or MSN degree. Usually, there will be no financial aid for continuous education in order to become a nurse advocate, although exceptions do exist. For instance, there are pots of money available for minority communities, disadvantaged groups and military personnel and veterans. Hence, it is best to speak to the school you have chosen for your programs to see if there is any aid available.
Some of the scholarship and financial aid providers for the BSN or MSN degree include:
- The AACN Scholarship
- The New Careers in Nursing option
- The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners
- The Susan Stein Scholarship
- The Madeline Pickett (Halbert) Cogswell Nursing Scholarship
Working as a Nurse Advocate
As a nurse advocate, you will be charged with educating patients about the illness that they have. This means that you help them understand the diagnosis they have received. You will then work as a liaison officer between the patient and the physician to find the best treatment option. You will be a representative of the patient, however, particularly when the recommendation of the doctor is different from the wishes of the patient.
It is a known fact that there is a tremendous growth in demand for all types of nurses. Indeed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that there will be a 22% growth by 2018. Healthcare advocacy is a new and emerging field, but a lot of growth is already seen in this field. The job is challenging but very rewarding and teaches you new things as you work. Naturally, it involves taking part in regular education in order to understand new legislation, treatments, insurance procedures and medicine. However, you will also learn a great deal from the patients themselves, particularly about different cultures, religions and personal beliefs.