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Alene Nitzky is an oncology nurse, author of Navigating the C: A Nurse Charts the Course for Cancer Survivorship Care, Blue Bayou Press, 2018. She is a cancer exercise trainer and health coach, and is CEO/Founder of Cancer Harbors®.

Six Ways Nurses Can Advocate for Patients

This is the first in a 3-part series about nurses as advocates within healthcare.

Many nurses think of advocacy as the most important role we play in patient care. We need to remember that to best serve patients, we must have our own house in order. That house includes the other healthcare professionals with whom we and our patients interact, as well as the organizations providing those services and the policies and legislation that influence them.
How can oncology nurses advocate for patients every day? Here are some examples.

  1. Ensure Safety. Ensure that the patient is safe when being treated in a healthcare facility, and when they are discharged by communicating with case managers or social workers about the patient’s need for home health or assistance after discharge, so that it is arranged before they go home.
  2. Give Patients a Voice. Give patients a voice when they are vulnerable by staying in the room with them while the doctor explains their diagnosis and treatment options to help them ask questions, get answers, and translate information from medical jargon.
  3. Educate. Educate patients on how to manage their current or chronic condition to improve the quality of their everyday life is an important way nurses can make a difference. Patients undergoing chemotherapy can benefit from the nurse teaching them how to take their anti-nausea medication in a way that will be most effective for them and will allow them to feel better between treatments.
  4. Protect Patients’ Rights. Protect patients’ rights by knowing their wishes¾this might include communicating those to a difficult family member who might disagree with the patient’s choices and could upset the patient.
  5. Double Check for Errors. Everyone makes mistakes. Nurses can catch, stop, and fix errors, and flag conflicting orders, information, or oversights by physicians or others caring for the patient. Read the orders and previous documentation carefully, double check with other nurses and the pharmacist, and call the doctor if something is unclear before administering chemotherapy.
  6. Connect Patients to Resources. Help patients find resources inside or outside the hospital to support their well-being. Be aware of resources in the community that you can share with the patient such as financial assistance, transportation, patient or caregiver support networks, or helping them meet other needs.

While we function as advocates for patients, many of the tasks we do become automatic and we can forget they are really about advocacy. When we are short-staffed or tired, our ability to advocate becomes compromised.

Advocacy for patients doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Every patient’s care is affected by the environment in which their care is provided, and the individuals providing that care. This means nurses need to have the time to be able to do these things and to become aware of patient needs, communicate, and follow through.

The nurse needs to come to work not exhausted or burned out. A safe patient load is necessary, as well as support and backup from other staff in the facility. Administrators must understand our role as advocates for patients, so they can provide adequate staffing levels and an environment that allows us to fully care for our patients. When the administration does not understand, it is part of our advocacy duty to inform them. 

In my next post I will explore how nurses also play important roles as advocates for their own profession, and within the greater healthcare space where we exist, intertwined with physicians and other healthcare professionals who ultimately serve patients.

Related Articles
As Nurses, We Must Advocate for Ourselves
Advocating for a Better Healthcare System

Talk about this article with nurses and others in the oncology community in the General Discussions Oncology Nursing News discussion group.
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