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HEALTHCARE CAREER GUIDES

Patient Advocate Career

OVERVIEW

What is a Patient Advocate?


 

Patient advocates work with healthcare patients on their behalf. Patient advocates work alongside insurance companies and healthcare workers to ensure that their clients make the best information-based decisions regarding their health. They work in several different roles as well. Some patient advocates specialize in one particular area such as insurance, medical literacy, or other high-need areas while others provide multiple advocacy services. Largely, a patient advocate serves as the liaison between patients, healthcare staff, and insurance companies.

RESPONSIBILITIES

What Does a Patient Advocate Do?

 

As mentioned above, the role of one patient advocate may vary greatly from the role of another. One patient advocate may focus their services entirely on nursing advocacy while others may provide advocacy services in a number of areas. The exact day-to-day of a patient advocate will vary greatly depending on the expectations agreed upon between involved parties. Below is a list of different generalized tasks that patient advocates are often responsible for:

  • Healthcare visit support: Patient advocates help patients get the most out of their healthcare visits. Caregivers and clinical environments can be intimidating to many patients, and a patient advocate can help by preparing patients beforehand or even attending an appointment with a patient. This helps to ensure that they are getting all of the answers to their questions and that they are asking all of the questions that should be asked.
  • Insurance support: Patient advocates often help their patients understand everything that they need to know about their insurance coverage. They will help patients understand what their insurance covers vs. what it doesn’t, premiums, co-pays, payer reimbursements, deductibles, and any other health insurance-related support. They also work with healthcare financial departments to bill their patient's insurance for care.
  • Financial support: Patient advocates specialize in healthcare financial support. They work alongside healthcare billing and financial departments to monitor different financial processes like billing the insurance provider, negotiating treatment or care costs, and identifying any medical bill errors. They also help patients understand treatment costs, payment plans, and what is covered by insurance vs. out-of-pocket costs. They can also help patients locate different financial support programs and organizations that help offset the cost of healthcare.
  • Healthcare literacy: Doctors are busy and may accidentally skip over certain pieces of information that they think are common knowledge or understood (for example, the severity of a diagnosis). Patient advocates can help by making sure that both patients and their loved ones understand the diagnosis, prognosis, treatment options, costs, and any other information that may not be clear after a visit.
  • Patient rights: Patient advocates help their clients navigate their rights as a patient to ensure that healthcare workers and insurers are providing proper care according to the book. They will help patients understand both local and federal patient rights laws. Patient advocates can help identify any care gaps or concerns and make suggestions or take action accordingly—in some cases they may help with seeking out legal representation. Some scenarios that may require a patient advocate to include do not resuscitate orders (DNR) or refusal of services.

EDUCATION & BEST DEGREES

How to Become a Patient Advocate?

The route to becoming a patient advocate isn’t as uniformly defined as other certified or licensed careers like becoming a nurse or teacher. Many careers—especially healthcare careers—require some combination of formal education and certification, but as is, there are no national or state standards required for patient advocates. However, just because there aren’t any definitive universal standards doesn’t mean that you automatically have the credentials to become a patient advocate. Below are some methods for obtaining the necessary skills for a career as a patient advocate.

Although there are no formal education requirements necessary for a career in patient advocacy, there are several degree programs that can help you get the relevant healthcare experience necessary for success in the role. Some examples of degree programs that translate well into patient advocacy include:

There are also online degree programs that are designed to be flexible to help working individuals attend school. Additional schooling can help you stand out to employers, so consider taking advantage of master’s programs like an MBA in healthcare management or an MSN in leadership and management. For those who have earned their master's degree, a post-master's certificate in nursing leadership & management can be beneficial.

Best Degrees for a Patient Advocate

Nursing (Prelicensure) – B.S.

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN and a...

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN and a baccalaureate-prepared nurse:

  • Locations: Due to in-person clinical requirements, students must be full time residents of FL, ID, IN, IA, KS, KY, NE, NV, NM, NC, OH, OK, SC, TN, TX, UT to enroll in this program. The coursework in this program is offered online, but there are in-person requirements.
  • Tuition: $6,430 per 6-month term for the first 4 terms of pre-nursing coursework and $8,755 per 6-month term for the remaining 4 terms of clinical nursing coursework.
  • Time: This program has a set pace and an expected completion time of 4 years. Certain coursework may be accelerated to finish faster.
  • WGU offers the prelicensure program in areas where we have partnerships with healthcare employers to provide practice sites and clinical coaches to help teach you and inspire you on your path to becoming a nurse.
  • If you don't live in one of our prelicensure states or don't qualify to apply, consider getting our Bachelor's in Health and Human Services instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry, while also working directly with patients who need help.

Skills for your résumé that you will learn in this program:

  • Community Health
  • Women's and Children's Nursing
  • Pathology
  • Physiology
  • Research

Nursing – Leadership & Management (BSN-to-MSN) – M.S.

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree who are ready for...

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree who are ready for additional career opportunities.

  • Time: 61% of grads finish within 23 months
  • Tuition: $4,795 per 6-month term
  • Courses: 15 total courses in this program

This program is ideal for current RNs who have a BSN and are ready for the next step in their education.

Skills for your résumé you will learn in this program:

  • Quality Outcomes in a Culture of Value-Based Nursing Care
  • Nursing Leadership and Management
  • Advanced Pathopharmacological Foundations
  • Informatics for Transforming Nursing Care

Compare degrees

This program is not the only degree WGU offers designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (BSN-to-MSN) – M.S. Nursing

This program for BSNs who have an active, unencumbered RN license prepares...

This program for BSNs who have an active, unencumbered RN license prepares you to become a board-certified Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.

  • Locations: Due to the clinical requirements of this degree program, the PMHNP program at WGU is currently NOT open to students who have a permanent residence in the following states: Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin.
  • Time: It takes 2.5 years to complete the coursework and clinical components of this degree program.
  • Tuition and fees: $6,625 per six-month term.
  • Courses: 17 total courses in this program.

This program is for current RNs who have earned their BSN and are ready to move forward in their career. This MSN program prepares students to become licensed as a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner in select states.

Skills for your résumé that you will learn in this program:

  • Advanced Pathophysiology 
  • Assessment and Diagnostics
  • Behavioral health
  • Advanced Pharmacology

Students must have a permanent and active license from a state that is not listed above, must complete the internships in that state, and intend to obtain initial APRN licensure in that state. See more state-specific information related to nursing licensure. Compact licenses must be endorsed by your state of residence. More about compact licenses.

Nursing (RN-to-BSN Online) – B.S.

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking the added...

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking the added theoretical depth, employability, and respect that a bachelor's degree brings:

  • Time: 61% of graduates finish within 20 months.
  • Tuition: $4,685 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 23 total courses in this program.
  • Transfers: Students can transfer up to 90 credits.

Skills for your résumé that you will learn in this program:

  • Healthcare Policy and Economics
  • Information Technology in Nursing Practice
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Applied Healthcare Statistics

If you don't currently have an RN and don't qualify for your nursing prelicensure program, consider getting our Bachelor's in Health and Human Services instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry in a unique way.

Nursing Leadership and Management – Post-Master's Certificate

A certificate for registered nurses with a master's degree in nursing who...

A certificate for registered nurses with a master's degree in nursing who are ready for greater responsibility in a leadership and management role.

  • Time: Students typically finish this program in 12 months.
  • Tuition: $4,795 per 6-month term. The cost to sit for the NAHQ Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality (CPHQ) exam is included in tuition.
  • Courses: 8 total courses in this program.

Skills for your résumé that you will learn in this program:

  • Strategic Planning
  • Resource Management
  • Business Case Analysis
  • Evaluating Healthcare Improvements

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner – Post-Master's Certificate

This program is for current RNs who already have earned an MSN and are...

This program is for current RNs who already have earned an MSN and are wanting to become a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner through a post-master's certificate program.

  • Locations: Due to the clinical requirements of this degree program, the PMHNP post-master's certificate program at WGU is currently NOT open to students who have a permanent residence in the following states: Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin.
  • Time: This program can be finished within  1.5 years, depending on transfer credit and how quickly you move through core coursework. Please note the clinical components of this program are set. 
  • Tuition and fees: $6,625 per six-month term.
  • Courses: 11 total courses in this program.

This program is for current RNs who have earned their MSN but are wanting to add a specilization to become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. This post-master's certificate program is only available in select states.

Skills for your résumé that you will learn in this program:

  • Advanced Pathophysiology 
  • Assessment and Diagnostics
  • Behavioral health
  • Advanced Pharmacology

Students must have a permanent and active license from a state that is not listed above, must complete the internships in that state, and intend to obtain initial APRN licensure in that state. See more state-specific information related to nursing licensure. Compact licenses must be endorsed by your state of residence. More about compact licenses.

Nursing – Leadership & Management (RN-to-MSN) – M.S.

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and is a substantial leap...

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and is a substantial leap toward becoming a nurse leader.

  • Time: 62% of RN-to-MSN grads finish within 37 months.
  • Tuition: $4,685 per 6-month term during undergraduate portion and $4,795 per 6-month term during graduate portion.
  • Courses: 32 total courses in this program.

Skills for your résumé you will learn in this program:

  • Quality Outcomes in a Culture of Value-Based Nursing Care
  • Nursing Leadership and Management
  • Advanced Pathopharmacological Foundations
  • Informatics for Transforming Nursing Care

If you're driven to lead, this online nursing degree will provide you everything needed to make that career a reality. This program is ideal for current RNs who are interested in earning both their BSn and MSN in an accelerated program.

Compare degrees

This program is not the only degree WGU offers designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees.

Health and Human Services – B.S.

An online health degree program for students who are committed to making a...

An online health degree program for students who are committed to making a difference for patients in a variety of ways.

  • Time: 63% of students finish this program in 24 months
  • Tuition: $4,085 per 6-month term
  • Courses: 35 total courses in this program

Skills for your résumé that you will learn in this program:

  • Epidemiology
  • Community and Public Health
  • Cultural Awareness
  • Pathophysiology
  • Healthcare Values and Ethics
  • Substance Abuse Support

This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry, while also directly working with patients who need help.

Psychology – B.S.

An online psychology program for students who want to make a difference in...

An online psychology program for students who want to make a difference in their life, and the lives of others.

  • Time: 95% of students finish similar programs in less than 4 years.
  • Tuition: $4,085 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 34 total courses in this program.

Skills for your résumé included in this program: 

  • Social psychology
  • Consumer psychology
  • Adult psychology
  • Mental health awareness
  • Psychopathology

This degree allows you to gain valuable knowledge and experience in the field of psychology and can prepare you for additional certifications or careers.

How Much Does a Patient Advocate Make?

$68,081

The average United States patient advocate salary comes out to $68,081. The amount you make can vary greatly depending on your education, certifications, relevant skills, experience, geographical location, and where you work (advocacy firm, freelance, etc.).

Are Patient Advocates in Demand?

Yes

The field of patient advocacy is growing as it is becoming more common to employ patient advocates as a part of a care team. Since patient advocacy is relatively new, and one career in patient advocacy can look entirely different from another, there isn’t much definitive information on career outlook.

SKILLS

What Skills Does a Patient Advocate Need?

If you are working towards a career in patient advocacy, there are some skills that you should have currently or should work towards. The exact skills needed to be effective within the role can vary depending on the nature and specific responsibilities of the role, but the following are some general skills that are indicative of a successful patient advocate:

  • Advocacy skills: Advocacy skills are an obvious necessity. You need to be able to effectively communicate, negotiate, plan, research, and act in the best interest of an individual patient or multiple patients. 
  • Communication skills: You need to have both strong verbal and written communication. You need to take complex healthcare information (insurance forms, medical diagnoses, treatment plans, etc.) and put it into terms that are easily understood by your patients. An effective patient advocate should also be skilled in reading non-verbal cues such as confusion, anger, frustration, or being overwhelmed.
  • Negotiation skills: Effective advocating requires a great deal of negotiation. You will need both written and oral negotiation skills to create a solid case for the patients that you advocate for.
  • Attention to detail: A primary aspect of patient advocacy is reading through all of the documentation and making sure that all information is accurate and complete. Successful patient advocates should be able to identify any errors and take action accordingly—especially since proper documentation is so critical for quality care.
  • Organizational skills: When you advocate on behalf of someone else, it is important to keep everything in order. Patient advocates often advocate for multiple patients, so it is important to be able to keep each respective patients’ files organized and free of clutter. This role requires both mental and physical organization.
  • Interpersonal skills: Patient advocates are in constant communication with patients, healthcare professionals, and insurance companies. To nurture those relationships and collaborate successfully, you need to have important interpersonal skills like positivity, listening skills, and empathy. It’s also important to be able to read social cues so that you can better align with the expectations of the parties involved in your role.
  • Problem-solving skills: Medical-related decisions and processes are not always straightforward for everyone. Patients may need help with insurance denials or disputes, billing issues, miscommunications, or misunderstandings that create the need for problem-solving skills.
  • Financial skills: Another primary aspect of patient advocacy surrounds finances. You will need to be able to make financial recommendations, understand different financial assistance programs (local, state, and federal programs), and you need to be able to answer specific financial questions that may arise at any point.
  • Caregiver skills: Patient advocacy requires a combination of empathy and some comfort and familiarity with the modern healthcare system. This makes it particularly helpful for advocates to have some experience working as caregivers—especially doctors or nurses—to help prepare them for guiding patients through the system. Caregivers often require many of the same skills as patient advocates, including problem-solving, communication, organizational, and interpersonal skills—in addition to clinical training and knowledge.

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No need to wait for spring or fall semester. It's back-to-school time at WGU year-round. Get started by talking to an Enrollment Counselor today, and you'll be on your way to realizing your dream of a bachelor's or master's degree—sooner than you might think!

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