Being a nurse is incredibly hard at times. You’re the person patients see most often. You go between doctors and patients and you often have to explain things to both sides. A doctor may not understand why a patient is upset and a patient isn’t always likely to understand why a prescription wasn’t written or a test was or wasn’t ordered.
A lot falls on your shoulders. It’s not an easy job, but if you wanted an easy job you wouldn’t be working as a nurse right now. No one goes into this profession thinking it will be a walk in the park. Everyone is aware that the job will have challenges that other professions just never have to think about. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed sometimes.
One thing you can do to help both your own stress levels and benefit your patients, however, is to improve your patient advocacy skills. Learning how to be a good patient advocate can help you feel less frazzled when you know something isn’t right. It can help you help your patients understand what’s going on.
Here are five ways to be a great nurse and tips on how to be a good patient advocate.
1. Don’t be afraid to speak up.
Doctors get busy and sometimes it’s hard to be the one to say that you need to do a time out and/or check something that’s going on. It’s unlikely that a doctor or any other member of the staff you work with wants to actively harm a patient but being in a rush can cause people to want to cut corners.
As a nurse, it’s easy to sometimes feel like you should just let it go. You don’t want to anger someone and if you’re new to the hospital or clinic, you may even feel like you’re in the wrong. Remember that you’re often the last line of defense in a patient’s safety and it’s okay to take that job seriously.
When you have a gut feeling that something isn’t going right, when you see a near-miss on a med error or when you see an unsafe bed transfer, it’s okay to speak up. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.
You aren’t being mean and you aren’t causing a problem. You are keeping your patient safe and that means you’re being the best nurse you can possibly be.
2. Be confident in your own education as a nurse.
You’ve gone through a lot to be a nurse. Nursing school isn’t a joke and you’ve spent hours learning on the job, too. Be confident in that education.
Use it to help your patients when they have questions. If they don’t understand why a doctor didn’t prescribe an antibiotic, take the time to educate them. You know what’s going on.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should go beyond your scope of practice. You just need to try and be a great resource for your patients. You have the ability to make sure they understand what medications they’re taking and why. As a nurse, you hold a lot of knowledge and patients need that help.
When you see a patient feeling frustrated by something a doctor has said, a prescription not written or even if they’re frustrated because they’re genuinely confused about what’s going on, help them out.
READ THIS: Practical Tips for How Nurses Can Make Use of LinkedIn
Give them the benefit of what you know. Take the time to educate your patients and make sure you help them feel more confident about their own healthcare.
3. Learn from your fellow nurses.
Have you ever seen another nurse place an IV like it was a beautiful piece of artwork? (Okay nurses are weird about that stuff, but you know it’s an art form sometimes.)
Don’t let yourself lose an opportunity to improve a skill. If a nurse you’re working with does something really well, ask her about her secret. It’s likely that your fellow nurses have some tips you haven’t tried yet.
Nursing is never a career where you’re going to be done learning. Simply ask your fellow nurses and you’ll learn something. By being realistic about the areas you want to improve and being proactive about them, you’ll be a better advocate.
Be confident that you and your fellow nurses have a lot to offer each other. The more information you share, the more you’ll be able to give your patients the best possible care out there.
4. Respect your patient’s rights.
This isn’t always an easy thing to do. Sometimes, it’s hard to understand why a patient may refuse a certain medication or procedure. You’re aware of how much research and medical evidence is out there, but a patient may have religious or cultural beliefs that change what is going to be possible for them.
This is where advocacy can get tough.
You definitely want what’s best for your patient but sometimes, that means respecting their patient rights. When you start to wonder how to be a better patient advocate, you may have to consider this tougher area. There will be times where the best thing you can do is respect their beliefs and help them convey those to other staff members.
READ ALSO: Why The Code Of Ethics Is Important For Nurses
This isn’t the same as letting a patient remain uneducated. You can still offer to talk to them about a decision they’re making. But once the decision is made, make sure you’re being their voice if other staff members aren’t respecting their decision as much as they should be. You’re still advocating for their best interest, even if it feels like they should be making a different choice.
5. Know the available resources.
Your hospital, clinic or other healthcare systems probably have a lot of things they offer to patients that they aren’t aware of. It’s good to be aware of what’s available, from social workers to pastoral care, and be confident in those patient resources.
That way, when you see a patient struggling to figure out how to afford medication or accept a diagnosis, you will be able to offer real help.
The more you can do to help your patient succeed with discharge plans, medication adherence or anything else that will improve their quality of life, the better you’re doing at being a patient advocate.
Remember those resources. Don’t be afraid to offer them to any patient you think could benefit from them.
A lot of patient advocacy skill improvement just involves being more confident in what you are already doing. Don’t be afraid to speak up, rely on other nurses, and keep on doing what you’re already doing.
You likely already have the know-how to be a great patient advocate, so remember that the next time you get that gut feeling. You know when something needs to be fixed or a patient needs a little extra care. Be that advocate for them. You’ve got this.