Nurses & Patient Advocacy

Nurses & Patient Advocacy

Stay strong beyond the bedside

By Christine Contillo, RN, BSN
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I’m sure we would all agree that nurses have valuable skills. It’s no secret that we can often dress a wound better than the physician who placed the order. Patient advocacy and education are also skills we should be practicing and improving whenever possible.

There’s a right and a wrong way to speak up on behalf of a patient. Telling another nurse or allowing a family member to overhear that Dr. Doe hasn’t ordered enough pain medication is not the route that should be taken. But a word placed on the patient’s behalf directly to the physician might just be successful. Something like, “Dr. Doe, your patient seems so uncomfortable. Do you think that Percocet is really holding him?” doesn’t challenge his order directly and might just find him willing to change.

It was patient advocacy that sent me to the annual Philip Morris International shareholder meeting this past May. Thanks to efforts to educate the public on the negative health consequences of tobacco use, manufacturers are losing their base in the U.S., looking to developing nations to swell the ranks of users. This meeting, which is webcast, is one place where nurses are allowed (with proxy votes) to speak out about the profits being made at a great human cost,  and we were recognized for our activism by The New York Times.

You may not be ready to get up and speak before a crowd, but there are certainly issues that directly affect you or your workplace. A well-written letter to the appropriate person is a good use of your time; repeatedly complaining at every lunch break to your co-workers is not. If it’s gun control, seat belt use, medication labeling or unsafe work conditions, take the proactive approach and be part of the solution.

Ruth Malone, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, has. She started group called the Nightingales Nurses who attend the tobacco manufacturers’ annual meetings. For more information about their fight against tobacco, go to  

Christine Contillo, RN, BSN, has worked as a nurse since 1979 and has written extensively for various nursing publications, as well as The New York Times.

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