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How to Become a Patient Advocate: Salary Range, Training, & Jobs

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The healthcare system of the United States is complicated. The layers of bureaucracy involved with billing, the advanced vocabulary surrounding prognosis, diagnosis, prescriptions, and the intensity of keeping up with one’s health when going through sickness are becoming more impenetrable. Where can a patient find their footing between insurance companies, hospitals, and doctors treating hundreds to thousands of people? Do you want to build a career helping people navigate this complex system? Read on to learn how to become a patient advocate.

How do you become a patient advocate? What are the steps? What education is involved, and what exactly does the patient advocate occupation entail? All these questions and more are answered in this GetEducated article. Read on to learn more about becoming a patient advocate today!

Quick Facts About Patient Advocacy

What is a patient advocate?

A patient advocate is a professional who provides direct assistance in healthcare access, healthcare education, patient decision-making, and tasks spanning administrative to legal issues involved with insurance, billing, et cetera.

What kind of salary can a patient advocate expect?

Patient advocacy is an evolving profession. While nurses or “hospitalists” are still considered patient advocates and those titles could measure their pay scale, today’s advocates can work outside of hospitals as private agents, work for insurance companies, and be employed by other entities. Payscale rates the national annual median salary as $44,495.

What is the difference between nursing and patient advocacy?

The differences between nursing and patient advocacy include salary, education, who they work for, and patient duties. Nursing and advocacy have often been the same role. However, this is changing as the medical field changes.

Can I become a patient advocate if I don’t work at a hospital?

Yes! Patient advocates are employed by insurance agencies, nonprofits, private agencies, hospitals, doctor’s offices, and more.

What is the patient advocate work environment?

Patient advocates work in an office within hospitals or clinics. There is also a growing population of remote advocates as the role relies heavily on computer and telehealth work.

How can I become a patient advocate if all I have is a high school diploma?

It is possible to become a patient advocate with only a high school diploma. However, earning a degree can boost your station, make you a better salary, and may be required for some entry-level positions in today’s competitive healthcare marketplace. The amount of information and the professional training it takes to be qualified to emotionally and informationally support patients is best acquired through a degree program.

What is a Patient Advocate?

You may be more familiar with the term “advocate” as it applies to wildlife advocacy groups, political advocates, or grassroots advocates, people who try to incite change in favor of a cause. Advocacy is supporting a cause or proposal. Patient advocates support patients through the complicated medical and insurance systems while upholding patient rights, education, awareness, consent, and all-around representation.

Patient advocates can come from various agencies, take on challenging tasks, and make the most of a patient’s visit to the doctor long after an appointment, surgery, or diagnosis. In short, a patient advocate gives, supports, and helps in some of the most challenging times in people’s lives.

Patient advocates are tasked to ensure a patient sees the appropriate doctors; that treatment plans are followed; and that the patient is taking advantage of all available treatment options. Advocates can also coordinate care between doctors if needed.

Who Can Become a Patient Advocate

Some believe that any nurse is by definition a patient advocate as the role entails listening to and understanding a patient’s needs. But others question this definition and see patient advocacy as a growing field where independent agents help patients navigate and negotiate the complex field of medical services.

Nurses can be trained as patient advocates, and in fact, it is encouraged that advocates possess some education and training in the nursing field. However, it is possible to become a patient advocate with only a high school diploma and on-site training in their workplace or with degrees in law, social work, and more.

Additional Duties of a Patient Advocate

Additional duties may include education for the patient, families, and caregivers and research into a patient’s condition. Some patient advocates also shepherd a patient’s claims through the health insurance system. They help make sure billing departments are filing correctly, and insurance processors are paying correctly.

Where do Patient Advocates Work

Hospitals, rehab centers, other medical facilities; nonprofit organizations; government agencies; insurance companies; or for-profit patient advocacy firms all employ patient advocates. Other advocates are self-employed.

Consumer Advocacy

Another area of this profession involves consumer advocacy. A consumer advocate is an individual or group who works on behalf of groups of people, including making changes in policies or laws that will benefit group health. Some consumer advocacy groups in healthcare include the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), the Society for Healthcare Consumer Advocacy (SHCA), and the Patient Advocacy Foundation (PAF).

Patient Advocate Career Growth Potential

The patient advocate profession is growing as an aging population makes extended use of medical services. Increasing medical care to treat complex illnesses has resulted in an escalating need for experts trained to help patients navigate a complex healthcare system.

In recent years trend spotters have cited patient advocacy as a career field with a good outlook. Online healthcare degree programs and online nursing degree programs are adding courses that teach the broad skills required to become a patient advocate.

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According to ZipRecruiter.com, the national patient advocate’s salary averages $38,282 as of November 2021. However, Payscale rates the current national annual median salary as $44,495. Indeed.com posts that the latest national average salary for patient advocates as of November 4, 2021, is $28,532 a year, down over $6,800 from Indeed’s May 2020 report. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not list patient advocacy on its own.

Patient advocacy is an evolving profession. While nurses or “hospitalists” are still considered advocates for their patients, today’s advocates can work outside hospitals as private agents, work for insurance companies, and be employed by other entities. Therefore, salaries range based on where you are employed, what your title is, what city you live in, and your education status.

Advocate Salary History

A 2008 survey conducted by the Society for Healthcare Consumer Advocacy, a membership group of the American Hospital Association, found that among the 173 advocates who responded, the average salary was $51,895. Only three respondents reported salaries over $100,000, and six reported earning less than $30,000. Those who held doctorates made the most ($70,000 to $75,000); advocates with master’s degrees made $55,000 to $60,000, while those with bachelor’s degrees were in the $50,000 to $55,000 range.

Become a Patient Advocate — Nurses and Career Changers

This field—with its lack of required certification or licensing—is open to career changers. Those with natural transition backgrounds include medical assistants, medical billing clerks, counselors, social workers, healthcare workers, and lawyers.

Many nurses choose this career and leave direct patient care in hospitals and clinics to help individuals navigate the health system on issues ranging from billing disputes to declined care petitions.

Related Resource: Online Accelerated BSN Programs: Second Degree BSN for Career Change

Online Healthcare Degrees in Patient Advocacy

There are no national standards or certifications for patient advocates because it is a new and unregulated field. Therefore, employment requirements are flexible, and the educational background of patient advocates is diverse. Some advocates have law degrees, and others have healthcare administration or nursing credentials. If you want a higher salary in the field, earning a degree tied to patient advocacy can help you reach that goal.

Most believe an online healthcare administration degree is the best foundation for this career field. Now several colleges are offering online degrees in patient and health advocacy across the country or at least degrees that add courses in patient advocacy to the curriculum. Whether you are searching for a graduate certificate, bachelor’s degree, master’s program, or doctorate in healthcare administration, there are flexible opportunities to rise to the top of this field.

Different Job Titles for Patient Advocate Roles

When searching for patient advocate positions, consider the different titles they can hold. The job you want may call for specific education credentials. Indeed.com lists the following advocate titles or titles related to patient advocacy with similar salaries:

  • Care navigator
  • Nurse navigator
  • Client advocate
  • Health advocate
  • Customer advocate
  • Patient representative

ZipRecruiter.com lists the following related titles that pay more than the average patient advocate salary:

  • Cloud developer advocate
  • Advocate physician
  • Developer advocate

Gain Experience as a Patient Advocate

Suppose you are interested in becoming a patient advocate but have no experience in healthcare, volunteer with a nonprofit service agency or medical facility. You’ll learn how to help patients and explore the ins and outs of the medical system. Volunteering will help you gain experience and help determine the type of advocacy positions you prefer.

Also, consider a certificate program in patient advocacy, healthcare, or health administration to gain a strong credential you can use to present your talents to future employers.

Top Online Degrees Held by Patient Advocates

While it is possible to become a patient advocate with simply a high school diploma, earning a degree increases competitiveness in the marketplace and brings in a better salary. The following are the top online degree concentrations held by patient advocates in 2021:

Related Resource: Masters in Nursing Online: How to Choose One

Minors that Complement a Patient Advocacy Degree

Having a major in healthcare could provide a straight shot into the advocacy field. Still, for those pursuing education in areas outside of healthcare, there are even more opportunities to add to a degree to make their credentials more impressive in highly competitive markets. Students may want to consider the following minors to accompany their degree in any field that might make them more attractive candidates in the field:

  • Foreign language
  • Finance or accounting
  • Business administration

Patient Advocate Workplace Environment

Patient advocates may work in various environments, including nonprofits, community agencies, hospitals and doctor offices, or independent practices. Since so much of the work is bureaucratic, dealing with scheduling, billing, and insurance, patient advocates need to be computer literate and able to work daily in office settings. Communication is also a vital asset of the position, and many workers will take part in telehealth calls with patients explaining and solving problems remotely.

Patient advocates also thrive in a hands-on setting with patients, providing consumer education, rides to doctor’s appointments, interviews, discussing treatment options, et cetera.

These professionals will communicate with doctors, nurses, healthcare administrators, insurance and billing companies, and patients. So a hardy dose of patience and a solid medical and financial vocabulary is often required on the job.

Work Toward Becoming a Patient Advocate Today!

A patient advocate is called to this new and evolving profession because they have struggled with the healthcare industry, become financially burdened, and survived an illness themselves. While the profession does not have any current licensing or certification requirements, it is still recommended to pursue some education to learn how to handle the day-to-day work of patient advocacy. With the resources offered through this article, we hope to provide you with the tools to become a patient advocate today!

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