A Fierce Advocate

A patient’s parent pulled me aside in the middle of a busy and difficult day recently, a day full of contradicting opinions of the plan between the providers and the family. I did my best to stay neutral, to do my part to allow the families’ voices to be heard by the physicians, but to also defend the stance of the physicians to the family who was frustrated and at the point of likely disagreeing with anything presented to them.

The parent pulled me aside, not to comment on my medical knowledge or my skills. She didn’t even comment on my ability to contort my body around large machines and pieces of equipment, over their bodies, in order to access whatever I needed to on their child without disturbing them, without asking anyone to move. Rather, she thanked me for being such a “fierce advocate.”

I was speechless. An extremely rare state for me, the girl whose parents used to pay her to be quiet in 30 minute increments. (I never made it a full 30 minutes so the expense was never great for them.) Either way, there I was, unable to muster a reply. Surprised by what an amazingly insightful and flattering compliment it was.

In nursing school we are told over and over the importance of this part of our role. We are at the bedside, we are the patient advocate, the voice of the silent, the constant support. I know this is my role and I take the job seriously, but I feel I am so rarely complimented on it or acknowledged for it. I felt so validated. I sensed all the frustration and burn out I had been feeling lately slowly begin to melt away. As I reflected over her comment in the following days I felt more and more excited to go to work, to do my job, and do it well.

I began to realize how important advocacy is. Not just in the nursing profession, but in all human relationships. We say that humans are relational beings, that we need each other to survive, to lead full and happy lives, but what is it exactly that we need from each other? Shouldn’t advocacy be the driving force or focus in all of our relationships?

We all need people who will be beside us and defend us, but more than that, people who will stand up and fight for us when we can’t do it ourselves. The definition of an advocate is a supporter, one who will argue, even plead for a cause. How often are we willing to plead for others? I mean really plead, beg even, put ourselves in a potentially vulnerable position in the interest of someone who can’t do it for themselves? I can honestly say I rarely do.

So this is my New Year’s resolution, in addition to improved diet and exercise, of course. This year, in 2014, I resolve to be a better advocate for the people I love.

In my work, I hope to leave every parent and patient I encounter feeling the way this mother did, like I was fiercely advocating for their child’s needs. Fighting to have their voices heard when they were unable to project them personally. I will advocate for the team I am a part of, defending them in return to the families that by design are closer to me than the physicians we both rely on.

I will advocate for my coworkers, working to no longer sit by silently, or even worse, join in when gossip and griping take over and we succumb to our embarrassing nature of complaining about others, ripping apart their character and work behind their backs. I will try to stand up for the people I work with, even when I, too, am frustrated by their decisions or choices. How easy it is to fall silent when people are complaining, and worse, how harmful it can be to join in and exacerbate the situation. How damaging it is to be the target of such situations.

In my personal life I will do the same, advocating for the friends and family that I love. I hope to be the friend that people can be confident is on their side, in their corner, always, in anything.

I have had an enormously eventful year of changes and growth in 2013 and I have felt so incredibly supported throughout it all by family and friends, old coworkers, and the new ones who have jumped right in and made me feel at home, as if I have been here all along. I have felt supported by my readers, strangers who only know my blog and not the girl behind it all. I have felt safe to be vulnerable and it has paid off. And now it is my turn.

In 2014 I will be a fierce advocate.

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5 thoughts on “A Fierce Advocate

  1. ”In my personal life I will do the same, advocating for the friends and family that I love. I hope to be the friend that people can be confident is on their side, in their corner, always, in anything. “
    Nursing profession is an advocacy itself, more than just a commitment and obligation. It is tough though, but with the support of loved ones and friends it makes it a lot easier. We are hoping to hear more nurses keeping that “fierce advocacy” on their checklist this year. Kudos from SJRN Team.

  2. I love the idea of being a better patient advocate. In my experience, the nurses I work with are often passive and succumb to decisions made by physicians. Often those decisions are not made in collaboration with patients or their families. Always ensuring that patients have full consent is so important, but I find treatments are usually poorly explained to them. Nurses are definitely in the best position to bridge this gap, but it definitely takes confidence to stand up and fight for the people in your care.

  3. As a very experience pediatric nurse I can see that you are well on your way to become a great if not fierce advocate. Sometime we need to be fierce but sometimes it is just our own response that show others that this patient and or their families needs to be cared for differently. It is easier to advocate if your dealing with data such as lab work or test results. Being fierce advocate for the parent that is struggling to have care providers understand why they are making certains decisions about their child or getting them to just listen is probably the most important tool a nurse can develop.
    Keep it up girlfriend, we need more fierce (great) advocates on our team!

  4. I agree with being an advocate where you can!
    My own parents [born in the 1930's] feel that doctors walk on water. My mother stroked in ’04; she is completely aphasic, completely paralyzed on right side. My father and younger brother are her primary caregivers at home. My father wouldn’t question the Neurologist who said ‘we should just let her go’. She said she would be a vegetable, but I was perplexed because Mom was not on a ventilator, and when one of us kids walked in the room; she lit up like a Christmas tree. If you pushed on her shoulder as if to try to see if she would get agitated, she did appropriately respond!! She could still hug with one arm and boy…. was she strong!!! My Dad couldn’t decide if she would be better off not putting in a feeding tube. Good Grief!! We didn’t know if she would never get better or fully recover!!! She could not understand what we said sometimes, and she could not appropriately respond to yes/no commands. SO he left the decision up to us. We spoke up and said : well she might be in there – we just have to try!! I would want someone to fight for me !! SO we did put in a feeding tube and today, almost 10 yrs later, she seems to be happy and she still lights up like a Christmas tree when I visit! There was nothing clearly written from her about end of life issues. She only wrote; didn’t want to be kept alive by machines….well there were no machines needed to keep her alive.

  5. Great post! Once you get knee-deep in nursing, you really realize how it is on you, as their nurse, to advocate for them. And sometimes you even have to advocate for the patient TO the family. Quite an experience; it makes you feel like such a warrior for them. Good luck in your advocacy in 2014!

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