How Nurses Can Advocate Effectively for Safety

Your patients are counting on you to prioritize their safety. But you can’t ignore the importance of your own safety, either.

"The evidence is clear that the safety of patients and the safety of nurses are intricately linked," says Beth Ulrich, EdD, RN, FACHE, FAONL, FAAN, principal investigator for the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses' 2021 National Nurse Work Environment Survey. It is the professional responsibility of nurses to advocate for both and to contribute to an overall culture of safety.”

Here's what you need to know about how you can effectively advocate for a culture of safety for everyone.

Advocating for Your Patient's Safety

"It's widely accepted that nurses have the most interactions with patients in the inpatient setting," notes Betty Long, RN, MHA, president and founder of the patient advocacy group Guardian Nurses. "As licensed professionals and being voted the No. 1 most ethical and trusted professionals, it makes sense that the role of advocate falls to nurses," she says.

What does advocating for your patients' safety look like? A 2019 study in Nursing Open described patient advocacy as promoting patient safety and quality care which includes the following: protecting patients, being patients' voice, provision of quality care and interpersonal relationship as well as educating patients. Chances are, you're doing as much of that as you possibly can. These tips may help you stay strong in your commitment.

Commit to educating yourself

Keep on learning about the latest safety protocols and standards. This might include carefully choosing your continuing education units to focus on safety and safety-related issues, as well as attending conferences and meetings offered by nursing associations. Another resource is the book Patient Advocacy Matters by Teri Dreher, RN, CCM, founder of NShore Patient Advocates.

Speak up

Everyone's feeling the strain of a growing staffing crisis that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nurses may feel overworked and under-supported. But even so, you must be vigilant. If you spot something that could lead to an error or cause harm to a patient, don’t remain silent. Speak up. Let someone know.

If every nurse spoke up for things they see that are ethically wrong or potentially dangerous, it will make a big difference to the future of healthcare in America," says Dreher. "Nurses should realize that labor laws and employment attorneys can protect the nurse and make it harder for hospitals to find reasons to let nurses go when they do not turn a blind eye to wrongs."

Take the time you need

"Too often, nurses feel rushed when providing patient care and might easily commit a medication error at any point during the shift," says Andrew Gilman, BSN, RN, CMSRN, a nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian in Dallas, Texas. "By slowing down during medication administration, the nurse can ensure that patients are receiving the correct medication, which prevents errors that could lead to a need for additional nursing interventions to correct or stabilize a patient's condition.

Advocating for Yourself and Other Nurses

The reality is that your patients aren't the only ones who may need you to act as their advocates for their safety. According to the AACN's most recent National Nurse Work Environmental Survey, only 47 percent of the respondents agreed with a statement that read "My organization values my health and safety," down from 68 percent in 2018. You may need to use your voice to advocate for your own safety and that of your colleagues. A few recommendations:

Ask for what you need

Ask for what you need to feel safe on the job. For example, do you need personal protective equipment (PPE)? PPE was in short supply in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many healthcare professionals had to reuse PPE or use makeshift PPE in place of the real thing. But now, the supply should be sufficient again. To support your request, a 2022 study in the Journal of International Nursing Studies found a sufficient supply of PPE could reduce COVID-19 symptoms in healthcare workers.

Talk to your mentor

Mentoring programs can go a long way toward creating and sustaining a culture of safety. If you have concerns about your own safety at work and you have a mentor, talk to them about your concerns and ask for guidance. And, once you have several years of nursing experience, you might consider acting as a mentor for a younger or less experienced nurse to give them the same opportunity.

Consult your professional association

If you're a member of a professional nursing association, contact your local chapter or even the national association if you need help. Nursing associations offer a wealth of resources, and they may be able to connect you with an expert who can provide additional assistance or help you brush up on advocacy strategies in nursing.

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