How to Become a Patient Advocate

Finding a suitable career match takes research. If you’re interested in finding out about what it takes to be a Patient Advocate, you’ve found a great resource. This invaluable guide gives you all the information you need to know about Patient Advocates, including training, experience and more.

 

What Does a Patient Advocate Do?

Patient Advocates assist patients within the complex field of healthcare services. They are helpful in making sure patients see the appropriate doctors for their specific healthcare needs. In addition, they can review treatment plans and confirm that they are being followed, including making sure that the patient is able to receive all available treatment options.

Some common Patient Advocate duties and responsibilities include:

  • Researching patients’ conditions and educating the patients, family members and caregivers
  • Overseeing patients’ health insurance claims to ensure billing departments and insurance companies are processing the claims correctly
  • Collecting information and reporting on topics such as patient relations and inter-institutional issues, making sound recommendations for improvement as needed

 Patient Advocate Skills

The ability to successfully advocate for every patient is a necessary skill. Being a Patient Advocate involves working with a variety of people, such as patients and their family members, private caregivers, medical staff and community resource providers. Therefore, Patient Advocates should possess a skillset that includes keen social perception, top-notch negotiation skills, active listening skills and the ability to offer sound and relevant advice.

Other key Patient Advocate skills include:

  • Service orientation
  • Ability to instruct others
  • Ability to coordinate with others
  • Critical thinking skills

 

How Do You Become a Patient Advocate?

Education and Training

According to our analysis of online job postings, many employers are looking for Patient Advocate candidates who have at least a bachelor’s degree in areas of health education or health promotion. Topics covered in these degree programs include theories and methods of health behavior and education.

Many former nurses and other medical personnel have successfully used their healthcare experience to segue into the Patient Advocate profession.

In addition, patient advocate certification programs exist for professionals with a baseline level of healthcare experience.

Finding a job

Demand for Patient Advocates is developing at an above-average rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a growth of 13 percent for the position through 2024, amounting to a total of 7,500 job openings for Patient Advocates during that period. The projected growth will be based upon efforts to boost health outcomes and cut healthcare costs by educating people on healthy habits and behaviors and providing information about how to obtain available healthcare services.

Every productive Patient Advocate’s job search starts with crafting a high-quality resume that highlights your skills and experience. For help creating a resume, take a look at our library of Patient Advocate resume samples.

Once your resume is ready, search online for Patient Advocate job opportunities. As you search for openings, be sure to check with people in your professional network, including people you worked with in the healthcare field.

When applying for Patient Advocate jobs, create a cover letter that expresses your interest in the position and highlights your qualifications and what you can bring to the role. Need some inspiration for your cover letter? Check out our collection of cover letter samples.

 

Insights from a Patient Advocate

In order to get an inside look at how to become a Patient Advocate, we contacted Michelle McConnell, patient liaison officer at DrFelix, and Dr. Carol Gordon DeVore at Amazing Healthcare Consultants, and here’s what they had to tell us.

What Is the Common Career Path for Patient Advocates?

I have been working as an independent patient advocate for the last four years,” stated Michelle McConnell. “I’ve met a lot of other patient advocates in this career, and they all seem to come from different careers. There are former nurses, former medical assistants, former social workers and even lawyers who found a rewarding career change in this field. Most people have at least some familiarity with the healthcare system, and I have seen quite a few of them move on to work at hospitals once they have done what they set out to do as patient advocates. A few went on to complete nursing degrees, while others pursued careers as social workers. Of course, some of them stick with it, as I have so far, and find it a rewarding field on its own.”

What Should Someone Consider Before Becoming a Patient Advocate?

According to Michelle McConnell: “Patient advocates are usually people who have had some experience in the healthcare system. You don’t have to have worked in healthcare before transitioning to this job, but those who haven’t have had some sort of long-term experience in the system, either through their own healthcare crisis or that of a family member’s. Simply knowing how the system works is going to help you immensely.”

What type of person excels in this job?

According to Dr. DeVore: “Experience, knowledge, empathy and excellent communication skills (listening, patience and being able to meet people on their own “healthcare literacy level”) are all essential to excel as a Patient Advocate. An effective advocate must also be accessible, organized, determined, assertive and resourceful.”

What are some of the most important skills – hard and soft – for patient advocates to have?

“Organizational and communication skills are essential, and I can’t emphasize enough that when working in the patient/healthcare arena, medical knowledge (or having a partner with same) elevates the advocacy that can be done to an entirely different level,” stated Dr. DeVore. “Also, in this day and age, technological skills are a must.”

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being a Patient Advocate?

“I find that the most rewarding aspect of being a Patient Advocate is knowing that our clients are less stressed, less alone, less afraid and less overwhelmed during medically challenging times,” said Dr. DeVore. “Whether their “journey” is due to a medical crisis or chronic illness or aging, knowing that our clients are able to turn over the paperwork, phone calls and time consuming tasks to us and instead concentrate on what’s truly important to them means everything to me. Assuring that our clients and their family members truly understand the complex and often confusing medical information they receive from physicians so that they can make informed decisions that are right for them is what continues to drive me to be the best Patient Advocate I can be!

 

How Much Do Patient Advocates Get Paid?

Patient Advocates are typically paid on an hourly basis, with the median hourly wage in the United States being $24.98. The lowest-paid Patient Advocates make around $14 per hour, while the highest-paid can earn around $45 hourly.

 Top 10 States for Patient Advocates’ Salary

Patient Advocates in the following states make the highest median hourly wage in the U.S.:

  1. Maryland: $41.43
  2. District Of Columbia: $39.44
  3. Georgia: $36.62
  4. Rhode Island: $34.84
  5. Nevada: $33.05
  6. California: $29.05
  7. Alaska: $28.89
  8. Texas: $26.21
  9. New York: $26.11
  10. Vermont: $25.09

Patient Advocate Resources

Need more information? We put together this list of extra resources to assist you as you continue exploring a career as a Patient Advocate.

On the Web

Pathfinders Medical Advocacy and Consulting – blog devoted to healthcare advocacy

Pathfinder Patient Advocacy Group – navigation for the healthcare journey

Lifebridge Solutions – life transition blog

Industry Groups

The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates – patient advocacy and care management professional association

Patient Advocate Foundation – provides effective arbitration and mediation services to patients navigating the healthcare system

National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants – non-profit healthcare advocacy organization that empowers advocates and consumers to successfully navigate the healthcare system

Patient Advocate Books

The Ultimate Compassionate Guide to Caregiving – timely solutions for those facing healthcare issues

You Bet Your Life! – offers perspectives on why patients need an advocate