Nurses are reminded constantly that it is their professional and ethical duty to advocate for their patients. Patient advocacy can take many forms: speaking up about safety issues, serving as a liaison between a patient and physician, or helping family members to understand a patient’s wishes. Yet nurses can—and should—also advocate for themselves, other nurses, and the profession as a whole. There is less emphasis on nursing workforce advocacy than on patient advocacy, and many nurses may not understand what it entails.
In a nutshell: every nurse has the potential to make a positive impact on the profession. The healthcare industry is changing at an unprecedented rate, in ways that have a direct impact on nursing. It’s time for nurses to raise their collective voice, to advocate for workplace safety, healthcare policy, and increased recognition for nursing’s important contributions.
An “advocate” is defined as a person who defends, supports, or fights for an interest of cause. Workforce advocacy involves the same four basic skills nurses use for patient advocacy: problem solving, interpersonal communications, influencing others, and collaboration. Here’s a brief breakdown of each one.
- Problem solving. It’s not enough to complain about a situation. Advocacy involves suggesting solutions and working to make them happen.
- Interpersonal communications. The ability to paint a concise picture with words as well as to actively listen to other viewpoints are the foundation of positive communications.
- Influence. Advocacy often requires laying out a convincing case for a desired change. Influence and persuasion should be built on competence and credibility—which means backing up the case with facts.
- Collaboration. Once a case is built and a solution identified, an effective advocate will work collaboratively with others to reach a common goal.
Some healthcare organizations have adopted a model of shared governance to give bedside nurses a means to weigh in on decisions related to patient care and the workplace. Even when this model is not in place, nurses can volunteer to serve on committees or quality improvement teams in order to advocate for nursing interests. Safety is a hot-button issue right now, as nurses grow more concerned about workplace violence and rising numbers of back injuries. It only makes sense for nurses to advocate for safety measures before an injury occurs—and for nurse managers to advocate for their staff. In this example, nurses could approach hospital administration with a request for lift-and-transfer devices and an organized task force to develop safer patient transport methods.
Nurses can also advocate for adequate staffing ratios, reasonable breaks during a shift, or increased security in higher-risk areas like the ER. They can advocate for other nurses and elevate by the profession by mentoring younger nurses. Nurse managers can advocate for their staff through policies that discourage bullying and lateral hostility, and through policies that develop a more diverse nursing workforce. And nurse educators can advocate for the profession by incorporating leadership skills and critical thinking skills into the nursing curriculum, so that nurses are more fully equipped to act as decision-makers and serve on boards.
Advocating for more educational opportunities is a powerful way to raise the image of nurses as competent professionals who are well equipped to meet the demands of a complex healthcare system. These opportunities could be anything from monthly staff development sessions to tuition assistance for degree programs that accommodate working nurses—like American Sentinel’s flexible, online RN to BSN program.
Nurses have been identified as the most trusted profession by public opinion surveys. What are you doing to maintain or build on that perception? Share with us on our Facebook.