Contract Nursing February 7, 2018

By Sarah Stasik

The Role of a Nurse in Patient Advocacy

Patient advocacy is a huge part of a nurse’s job, and it’s called for by codes of ethics from both the American Nurses Association and the International Council of Nurses. 

But not all nurses may know exactly what’s expected of them, and process and facility barriers can make advocacy more difficult.

Learn more about patient advocacy nursing and how it plays an important role in your career. 

Apply Now

What Is Patient Advocacy? 

While the concept of advocacy may seem simple, advocating for a patient as a nurse is rarely a cut-and-dried matter.

To advocate means to plead on someone’s behalf, assist an individual, or defend a person’s rights or decisions, all of which nurses do. 

Professor Robert Hanks from the Houston School of Nursing points out that it’s not that simple, though.

In an article for American Nursing Today, he notes that nurses have to:

  • Let patients make their own educated decisions
  • Support the patient through the decision-making process
  • Act a liaison between the patient and other caregivers or the system in general

Ultimately, advocacy is about supporting the patient, not by making decisions for them, but by equipping patients to make their own decisions.

Then, nurses should act within their own professional ethics to promote those decisions when the patient can’t do it alone.

What Challenges Do Nurses Experience When Advocating For Patients?

Obviously, patients aren’t always going to make decisions that you agree with, and they might even make dangerous decisions. 

Outside of certain mental health situations involving court orders or emergency rooms, where patients may arrive unconscious, healthcare providers have to honor patient decisions without next of kin.

While nurses can provide education and advice, they have to refrain from inappropriate pressure, which can be not easy when you want to ensure a good outcome.

Facility and process barriers can also create challenges to effective patient advocacy. 

Nurses who must abide by specific care instructions across an entire ward or have an overwhelming patient load can’t provide the personal care necessary to develop a proper advocate relationship.

Some facilities may also discourage nurses from speaking up to other providers on a patient’s behalf. Even if they don’t, nurses might be hesitant to voice information or opinions that seem to contradict a coworker’s. 

That’s even more true if the communication bucks organizational hierarchy.

Facing Patient Advocacy Nursing Challenges

Patient advocacy isn’t usually easy or comfortable for a nurse, but it’s definitely part of the responsibility that comes with your license. 

Here are some tips to dealing with common patient advocacy nursing challenges:

  • Listen actively to the patient, so you know what their desires are
  • Speak tactfully and plan before you speak when possible
  • Stand up for your patient and be confident in your position
  • Make sure others know you are communicating on behalf of the patient and not voicing your own choices
  • Seek your own advocate or mentor so you have support for your position or someone to talk to when you’re not sure what actions to take

Search Nursing Jobs

Latest Blogs

Take the first step to starting your new career.

Authorized to work in the US? *
Job Type Interest *
Have you been on an Interim engagement with AMN before? *
Are you currently employed or on an active Interim engagement? *

How much notice would you have to give? *

What date are you available to start an Interim engagement? *

* Indicates Required Fields


I agree to receive emails, automated text messages and phone calls (including calls that contain prerecorded content) from and on behalf of AMN Healthcare, and affiliates. {{show_more}} I understand these messages will be to the email or phone number provided, and will be about employment opportunities, positions in which I’ve been placed, and my employment with AMN companies. See privacy policy or cookie policy for more details.

Complete Your Application!
AMN Healthcare NurseFinders logo
Continue to NurseFinders to complete your application and profile.