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Ever since Florence Nightingale forged ahead with her ideas on compassionate, patient-oriented care, nurses have been trained to serve as both physical caretakers and patient advocates. In fact, a core part of any nurse's job is nursing advocacy, and every patient offers an opportunity to work as a nurse advocate.
Yet nursing advocacy involves many levels of health care advocacy. First and foremost, a nurse advocate defends the rights of his or her patient. But nursing advocacy extends to spearheading larger health care improvements and even promoting the image of nursing in the media.
Every nurse is a "nurse advocate" -- working to protect each patient's rights on an individual basis. That might mean supporting or speaking up about a patient's decisions, providing culturally sensitive information to a patient's family or even just making sure the doctor is washing his or her hands before an examination. Nursing advocacy puts the patient's needs, desires, and safety first.
But there's also a more global, policy-oriented side to nursing advocacy. This kind of health care advocacy is aimed at defending patients' rights through administrative or legislative improvements that affect society as a whole. A nurse advocate in this role may reach out to Capitol Hill or keep professional organizations informed. It's about educating other nurses and the public about pertinent health care issues and working to come up with better nursing practices.
The field of health care is complex, full of intricate systems of hierarchy, law, and protocol. This can make it difficult to act as a nurse advocate on a patient's behalf. Doctor's may not be open to a nurse's interpretations or comments. Family members may have different wishes than a patient. Not to mention a nurse is incredibly busy with all of the other physical demands of nursing.
Some experts have also noted that the future of nursing advocacy is only going to get more complicated. Nurses are going to have to adapt to staffing shortages, a greater dependence on nurses for primary care, and even a shift toward online or remote care.
On the national level, we depend on nursing advocacy to push for health care system improvements, such as better access to care or patient rights legislation. Nursing advocacy also protects and promotes the nursing profession, working to address issues such as nurse burnout and the nursing shortage crisis.
At the patient level, we depend on nursing advocacy to be the watchdog of patient rights. What if a patient is afraid to speak up, or is otherwise unable to voice questions or concerns? A nurse advocate is the patient's voice. What if the doctor on call just really isn't hearing what a patient's family wants? A nurse advocate can step in to help foster better communication.
Nursing advocacy truly works to keep patients safe every step of the way, through regular checkups to extended hospital stays or surgery. Nurse advocates make the health care system a less intimidating place, serving as our guides, our defenders--and sometimes, just a friendly face.
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