Nurse advocacy can elicit big changes

By | 2020-06-22T12:31:31-04:00 June 4th, 2018|Tags: , |2 Comments

The American Nurses Association declared 2018 the Year of Advocacy. Advocacy is defined as the act of pleading for or actively supporting a cause or proposal, but what does it mean to nurses and their patients?

Advocacy is taking action

Stop for a minute and think how many times a day you encounter the word “advocacy” in your nursing practice. Whether contacting a physician about a change in a patient’s condition, questioning an order you think is potentially dangerous to your patient or contacting your CNO about nurse-patient ratios on your unit, you are advocating for your patients.

Whether you serve on your facility’s quality assurance committee, volunteer to evaluate new patient products or share your concerns confidentially with your nurse manager about a colleague’s care of patients, you are acting as an advocate for better patient care.

Advocacy can sometimes take you outside your facility when you face serious breaches of patient safety and the issue cannot be resolved within the boundaries of the facility. Known as “whistleblowing,” this form of advocacy is protected by state nurse practice acts and/or their rules and regulations, in whistleblower statutes (both at the state and federal level) and in minor and elder abuse and neglect state statutes naming nurses as mandated reporters.

And advocacy is not always directly linked to patient care. As an active member of your professional nursing association, if you provide testimony at legislative hearings concerning nursing practice, if you vote for state and federal legislators that support nursing or if you decide to run for a state or federal office, you are promoting nursing and good patient care while informing the public who you are and what it means to be a nurse.

Advocacy can fly under the radar or hit the air waves

Most instances of advocacy go unnoticed and are resolved with a solution that focuses on the patient’s best interest. Often, this occurs with quiet diplomacy resulting in desired outcomes. However, others gain national attention.

How could anyone forget the recent highly publicized incident in Salt Lake City, Utah, in which nurse Alex Wubbels was arrested for not following a police officer’s order to take a blood sample from an unconscious patient who could not consent and without a required search warrant?

Despite what Wubbels experienced, the outcome was positive. First, the police officer was terminated from his position. Second, scores of hospitals across the nation reviewed and, when necessary, revised their policies on interactions with police officers in emergency rooms, including the nurse’s own employer. Direct police-nurse contact is now prohibited at the University of Utah Hospital.

So, in this instance, Wubbels’ advocacy won a legal victory. It goes without saying she won an ethical victory, as well.

Wubbels’ stand in her situation was clearly in accordance with Provision 3 of the American Nurses Association’s Code of Ethics for Nurses With Interpretive Statements. The Provision requires nurses to “promote, advocate for and protect the rights, health and safety of patients.” And, it is clear nurses are fulfilling the provision’s directives.

Continue advocating, especially during 2018. Speak up, speak clearly and voice your concerns appropriately and in a timely manner. Know that your activism, whether quiet or strident, reaps rewards for patients, to the public and you.

Courses related to ‘nursing advocacy’

60133: Domestic Violence Advocacy
(2 contact hrs)

According to the Center’s for Disease Control and Prevention’s Injury Center Division of Violence Prevention, intimate partner violence is a major public health concern, with one woman in four and one man in seven age 18 and older in the U.S. having been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Healthcare issues brought about from the abuse can persist for more than 15 years after the violence ends, which increases annual healthcare costs. That number accounts for more than 10 million women and men entangled in an abusive situation each year, and that doesn’t take into account stalking and rape. There needs to be a focus on recognizing abuse and prevention, as many cases go unrecognized even when victims seek out medical care, due to healthcare provider barriers to assessing for abuse. Lack of specific training in intimate partner violence is one of the leading barriers identified by nurses and physicians.

CE561: Nursing Ethics, Part 3
(1.5 contact hrs)

Nursing is a moral profession. Nurses are charged to do good for their patients and avoid harm. But technological advances in healthcare require that nurses expand their instinctive understanding of ethics into one of reasoned and deliberate knowledge. This course informs nurses about the Code of Ethics for Nurses, nursing ethics committees and nursing advocacy, all of which help maintain the integrity of nursing.


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About the Author:

Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN
Our legal information columnist Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN, received her Juris Doctor from Loyola University Chicago School of Law and concentrates her solo law practice in health law and legal representation, consultation and education for healthcare professionals, school of nursing faculty and healthcare delivery facilities. Brent has conducted many seminars on legal issues in nursing and healthcare delivery across the country and has published extensively in the area of law and nursing practice. She brings more than 30 years of experience to her role of legal information columnist. Her posts are designed for educational purposes only and are not to be taken as specific legal or other advice. Individuals who need advice on a specific incident or work situation should contact a nurse attorney or attorney in their state. Visit The American Association of Nurse Attorneys website to search its attorney referral database by state.


  1. Avatar
    John P Kauchick, RN, BSN June 13, 2018 at 1:55 pm - Reply

    I have been advocating for open discussions on unjust Discipline of nurses for years. Nursing professional organizations I have lobbied won’t go there. I have worked at “recognition” program facilities in which Code of Conduct and Code of Ethics were violated by managersand leadership. These rules don’t apply to them. Some of these abuses of power have destroyed careers and lives. Yet, they are not held accountable. Frontline nurses have little recourse unless they can survive an 8-10 year court battle. Hospitals will go these lengths to defend their reputation. The only time professional organizations step to the plate is on the rare occasion the media disability is such they can make themselves look good. Otherwise, countless nurses have been left out to dry. This indifference and abuse has been described in legal documents as “evil.” It has been said “bad things happen when people stand buy and say nothing.” I retired but have not given up the fight.Even as my words are ignored and even removed from publication by these same abusing powers.

    • Avatar
      Vivienne McDaniel June 14, 2018 at 5:50 pm - Reply

      John, gather your thoughts and put them into a policy brief and submit it to your legislators, if you have not already done so. Also investigate what researchers have written about your concerns; you will need evidence-based research to lend credibility to your policy brief.

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