How Do You Become a Patient Advocate?


a few people sitting at a table

In all facets of life, we as humans want to have individuals in our lives who prioritize our best interests. This is no different in the medical field here in the US, where preventable medical errors now come as the third largest cause of death, according to a recent study from Johns Hopkins. Although we all hope our physicians and medical care providers will be the largest proponents of our health, we cannot account for the human error and ego of other people.

Now more than ever, we need advocates who will support the needs of patients regardless of the interests of independent parties. And with sights like providing a database of information on this area and on how to connect with an advocate, it’s important that patients understand that they have options and resources. If this sounds like something that would interest you, you may be a good candidate for patient advocacy. Here are a few ways you can pursue a career fighting for patients’ rights:

What is patient advocacy, and what is medical error?

So what exactly is patient advocacy as a career path? According to the National Cancer Institute, a patient advocate is “a person who helps guide a patient through the healthcare system.” The definition goes on to say these kinds of advocates aid a patient in navigating all aspects of the healthcare system, from screening and initial diagnosis to treatment and follow-up.

They also aid the patient in communicating their needs to physicians, especially in cases where the healthcare provider and the patient don’t speak the same language. An advocate merely aids the patient in any area or issue they may cross in their pursuit of better health. So you might also be wondering, “What issues do patients need to be protected from in healthcare?” Quite a lot, actually! Preventable medical errors are becoming a large cause of death in the US healthcare system.

A 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine titled “To Err is Human” revealed that 98,000 deaths occurred due to illnesses caused by medical treatment. This has only increased, and scientists have begun to classify the different areas where medical error can occur: diagnosis-related issues; failure to order the appropriate tests or address odd results; and issues with communication. There are also suggested ways to avoid these issues, and one is to have patient advocates present throughout the process.

How do I become an advocate?

There are plenty of different ways one can become a patient advocate. Firstly, if you know this is the career for you before entering college, you can select a major track that’ll direct link you to this industry. Unlike super-specialized fields, you can be a bit more flexible in your approach to getting the appropriate education to be a patient advocate.

If you want to be a patient advocate that specifically aids Spanish-speaking or native Spanish-speaking patients, you could major in Spanish or another language and earn a certificate, double major or minor in public health. you could also do vice versa. Likewise, if you want to specialize in working in cancer care, you could pursue a degree program or an undergraduate internship that helps you to better understand the field of oncology.

Who hires patient advocates?

Any company or industry that interacts with patients could use a patient advocate. Hospitals, elder-care centers, and nursing homes, inpatient and outpatient facilities, and rehab facilities all hire patient advocates. Another avenue could be to even work for a private firm that individual families can seek out of their own accord. Patient advocacy is a growing, much-needed profession, and there are plenty of organizations eager to hire those with these qualifications.

Patient advocacy is going to continue to become a much-needed industry as medical error continues to rise. And if you’re someone who wants to ensure that all patients receive the necessary care that abides by their rights, then this may be a field that fits you.