Nurses play many vital roles in the care of their patients, including that of advocate – someone who acts or intercedes on behalf of another. Typically the healthcare professional with the most interpersonal contact with the patient, the nurse may be in the best position to act as the liaison between patient and family and other team members and departments. To perform this function adequately, the nurse must be knowledgeable about and involved in all aspects of the patient’s care and have a positive working relationship with other team members.
The American Nurses Association (ANA) defines nursing as “the protection, promotion, and optimization of health and abilities, prevention of illness and injury, alleviation of suffering through the diagnosis and treatment of human response and advocacy in the care of individuals, families, communities, and populations.”
The ANA addresses the importance of advocacy in its Code of Ethics, including Provision 3: “The nurse promotes, advocates for, and strives to protect the health, safety, and rights of the patient.”
Three core values help form the basis of nursing advocacy: preserving human dignity; patient equality; and freedom from suffering.
- Preserving Human Dignity: Every person has the right to be treated with honor and respect. Patients and their families are often confused, anxious and frightened. At such times, they need an advocate to help navigate the unfamiliar healthcare system and facilitate communication among caregivers. This may include interpreting tests, procedures and instructions from physicians in terms the patient can understand and follow. It also may be necessary for nurses to educate the patient on the need for tests and procedures, as well as to provide emotional and physical support during the process. Nurses are in a position to integrate all aspects of the patient’s care and ensure that concerns are addressed, standards of care are met and a positive outcome for the patient remains the goal of the healthcare team.
Cultural and ethnic beliefs can be of great importance to patients and families and must be respected by the nurse. Although those beliefs may not be understood or appreciated by the nurse, they must be considered and accepted in all interactions, especially since they may have an impact on the patient’s physical and emotional well-being and comfort level.
In order to be an effective advocate, the nurse must be considerate of patient privacy issues and regard patient and family information as privileged and confidential. Nurses must adhere to organizational, state and national laws when discussing or disclosing healthcare or other personal information.
- Patient Equality: As the healthcare profession evolves in response to funding changes, technological advances and governmental regulations, disparities in the provision and delivery of care may become more defined.
The ANA Code of Ethics directs nurses to practice “with compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and uniqueness of every individual, unrestricted by considerations of social or economic status, personal attributes, or the nature of health problems.”
Nurses must provide care for all patients with the same degree of compassion and professionalism, without allowing personal biases to influence their practice.
- Freedom from Suffering: Many nurses list a desire to help others as a major factor in their decision to enter the profession. Helping to prevent or manage suffering – whether physical, emotional or psychological – is perhaps the most important aspect of care from the patient’s perspective.
Nurses may also be called upon to provide emotional support, or simply offer a friendly ear. That requires a commitment on the nurse’s part to be available to patients and their families.
The role of advocate can require a nurse to act as a communicator, liaison, educator, interpreter and caregiver. Choosing a career in nursing means making the choice to fill that role while providing optimal care and striving for positive outcomes for all patients.