A patient advocate is someone works with patients and looks out for their best interests. They might:
- look over an individual’s hospital bill to ensure that he or she received the right bill
- contact insurers regarding payments
- discuss treatments options
- arrange for a visiting nurse to check on a patient at home
Advocates work in hospitals and for private offices. They can also meet with patients in healthcare facilities and in their own homes. When you have an interest in helping others, you might want to find out if you need a college degree to work as an advocate.
College or High School
Though you might assume that all advocates have some type of college degree, some healthcare companies hire those with just a high school diploma. Other employers require that advocates have a minimum of a bachelor’s, but you may find work with an associate’s degree, too. The type of degree doesn’t necessarily matter either. You need a degree in a field that relates to healthcare and the care of others. Some vocational schools now offer advocacy programs that let you earn a diploma or certificate to work with patients.
Even though most employers do not require that advocates have any type of advanced degree, many do look favorably on applicants who have a nursing degree. Once you complete your nursing degree, you can apply to take the NCLEX exam to get your nursing license. Depending on where you live, you may also need to pass a criminal background check. Unless you score a passing grade on that test and successfully pass the background check, you cannot be an RN. The experience that you gain as a nurse gives you a better understanding of the healthcare industry and the treatment of patients, which will help you as an advocate for patients.
In addition to going to college or gaining some healthcare experience, you should also consider getting a certificate in patient care. The Professional Patient Advocate Institute offers a certification program that is only open to those who have at least one to two years of healthcare experience. You’ll take several advanced courses that teach you about:
- working with patients
- medical billing and coding
- similar topics
Then you need to pass a final examination to obtain your certificate. PPAI also offers a separate certificate program for those who want to work as hospital advocates.
You have a few options regarding how to find work as an advocate. Many hospitals and medical facilities hire advocates. You’ll need to submit a resume that includes a full list of all the experience you have. You can also check with the Affordable Care Act website to see a list of clinics and similar organizations in your area that hire advocates. If you want to gain some more experience before going to work for a hospital, you can work as a freelance advocate. Advocates who work independently only need a high school diploma a deep understanding of healthcare policies and laws.
Advocates provide patients with the support that they usually cannot get from a healthcare facility. They help them get in-home care and get financial assistance to pay their bills. The level of education needed to become a patient advocate ranges from a high school diploma to a bachelor’s degree.