Patient advocacy is a relatively new position within the healthcare industry, but it has become a very important one. If you’re considering this career, you’ll need to know the answers to a few important questions, like “what is a patient advocate?” and “how do I become one?” The following information should help you become informed as you look to make important decisions about your future in advocating for patients.

What is a Patient Advocate?

According to the National Patient Safety Foundation, a patient advocate is a “supporter, believer, sponsor, promoter, campaigner, backer, or spokesperson.” An advocate is someone who is trusted to act on a patient’s behalf and works with members of the patient’s healthcare team. An advocate is the professional voice of the patient.

An advocate can help patients in a variety of ways. They make sure patients see the right doctors, treatment plans are followed, and that their care is being properly coordinated. Advocates can also be a go-between person when it comes to all the red tape involved in the healthcare industry. They can educate patients, help them with insurance and billing issues, and ensure the patient receives every bit of help they need.

At the most basic definition, a patient advocate is meant to work strictly for the patient, providing them with whatever help it is that they need. They advocate for the patient,  becoming their voice. Patient advocates can work for hospitals, other medical facilities, government agencies, insurance companies, patient advocacy firms, or nonprofit organizations. Some patient advocates are even self-employed.

How do you Become a Patient Advocate?

Since this a relatively new position in the healthcare field, there aren’t too many regulations. Therefore, employment requirements could be very flexible. Some employers require a certification, while others prefer that you have an undergraduate degree.

There are many technical schools and colleges that offer a variety of patient advocacy certification programs. If you’re looking for a more permanent option, there are also many 4-year degree programs that can get you on your way. Healthcare administration degrees, for example, are an excellent place to start.

Many employers require some type of work experience when becoming a patient advocate. Many nurses become patient advocates because they have health experience under their belts, understand the ins and outs of the industry, and are the perfect people to help patients understand each and every one of their medical needs.

Many patient advocates intern or volunteer someplace before becoming permanent members of the staff. While working towards your degree or certification, you can volunteer at a hospital, medical facility, or even a nonprofit organization that works at advocating patients’ rights. You may even be able to offer your services to legal organizations that specialize in patient advocacy.

The healthcare industry can be hard to navigate, especially for patients. That is the exact reason why patient advocates have become increasingly necessary in the industry. What is a patient advocate? It is someone who works for the patient and ensures the patient receives every bit of care and respect they deserve. Becoming a patient advocate means offering your help to patients, in every way you can.

See also: Top 10 Online Colleges for a Healthcare Administration Degree