Patient Advocacy: Our Duty, Our Right

It’s a no brainer.

Nurses are patient advocates.

It’s what we do.

We advocate for our patients

We help them advocate for themselves by helping them heal physically, mentally, emotionally.

We assess what they know about their condition and we provide information and resources so they can make informed, intelligent decisions about their care.

It’s such a basic tenet of the nursing profession, one would believe it unassailable.

Right?

Not always.

You see, advocacy is fine when it means protecting patients from medical errors or protecting their privacy.

No one has a problem with that.

Not physicians. Not hospital administrators. Not hospital corporations.

But patient advocacy also means assessing the level of the patient’s knowledge of their condition (including any tests or procedures they are undergoing) and assessing if there are any questions or concerns.

If there is a knowledge deficit, or in plain English, if there are gaps in their knowledge and they want more information or have questions, the registered nurse is obligated to provide the patient with access to that information prior to the test/procedure.

Whatever form this takes, whether answering the questions directly, providing literature, arranging a referral to case management or social services, or withholding the signing of the consent form until full information is provided to the patient by the physician, the nurse is obligated as the patient advocate to act.

Now here’s where it can get a bit dicey.

You see, information is power. An informed patient is an empowered patient, able to make informed decisions in their best interests.

When a patient has not been fully informed of their options, becomes informed and then makes a change regarding treatment, it changes the balance of power in the medical relationship.

And there are some who do not take kindly to an empowered, informed patient.

Physicians. Hospital administrators. Hospital corporations.

It’s rare, but it happens.

What happens is a backlash against the nurse for acting as a patient advocate. Within the scope of practice. Within hospital policy.

As nurses, we cannot lose sight of the fact that patient advocacy is our duty, no matter how difficult it becomes.

Not only is it our duty, but it is our right to practice in our role as patient advocate without fear of professional reprisal or abuse from physicians, administrators or corporations.

It’s not just about us.

It’s about the patients.

It’s a no brainer.


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For a look a the case of a nurse fired for exactly the situation described above, check out Arizona Nurse Has License Threatened by Doctor After Providing Patient Education at The Nerdy Nurse.

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