Nurses do good deeds for patients every day. As the ANA Code of Ethics states, the nurse “promotes, advocates for, and strives to protect the health, safety, and rights of the patient.”
But the general public doesn’t seem to be aware of our role as patient advocates. To increase public awareness, we need to tell our story.
Our role as patient advocates
A nurse’s advocacy is unique: it blends intellect, courage, and compassion in the service of total strangers. Nurses ensure that patients’ voices are heard, their basic rights are protected, and they are given choices. We protect privacy, confidentiality, and the rights of research subjects. And we ensure that patients are protected from other nurses whose practice is questionable or impaired.
Today, nurses also advocate for insurance payments, indigent-care payment plans, and free prescription drugs. We help the elderly assert their mental competence and support the right to refuse care at any time.
Research in cancer nursing demonstrates that nurses meet the complex needs of patients and families through active advocacy. Nurses teach self-care strategies, assist with symptom diaries, develop question lists to guide information gathering, provide a variety of resources, and coordinate care among multidisciplinary team members.
Nurses act as advocates by taking chances and exercising judgment. We help patients and families achieve goals, even if we must depart from standard operating procedures. Everyday, nurses make decisions to address comfort, family presence, and care interventions. We support the decisions of patients and families, even if it means stopping an unwanted resuscitation.
However, our acts of advocacy and courage are often hidden in the intimate interactions with patients and families. These interactions are personal, and patients and families express their gratitude in private.
These private, rewarding moments with patients and families don’t seem to translate into public understanding of the nurse’s role. The Gallup organization consistently finds that people rank the nursing profession at the top of the list for honesty and ethical standards, yet we find ourselves described as delivering medical care. To reveal our very real impact on care, we must change the image of nursing in the eyes of the public.
We need to draw back the curtain and show the public the courage, intelligence, and giving nature of nurses. We need to reveal our advocacy, education, and essential roles in saving lives, preventing complications, reducing errors, and soothing souls. Each of us has stories of passion, compassion, empathy, heroism, and caring. We make a difference every day.
It’s up to us to amplify the indispensable nature of nursing in health care. To do so, we can leverage the efforts of others. A recent U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publication highlights studies that show the impact of nurses on patient outcomes. “Nurses Needed,” aired the week of October 24, 2008 on the PBS show NOW, calls attention to the nursing shortage and emphasizes the pivotal role of nurses in keeping patients safe.
The American Academy of Nursing’s “Raise the Voice Campaign” is helping tell our story. It showcases nurse “Edge Runners,” who are practical innovators transforming health care with nursing solutions. For more information, go to www.aannet.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3301.
While we are busy doing the work of nursing, we must take time to describe what we do. Use everyday opportunities to tell your story to friends and family. Be explicit when you explain what you are doing to help patients and their families. Choose your language carefully to convey the true acts of nursing.
Journalists want good stories. We need to pitch ours, so the public knows what nurses really do. Help make nurses more visible, and we will be tapped to advise, serve on boards, speak to lawmakers, serve as lawmakers, and exert greater influence on public policy. Be vocal, raise your voice, and tell your story.
Pamela F. Cipriano, PhD, RN, FAAN, NEA-BC