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How do nurses advocate for children?

Advocating for patients has been integral to the nursing profession since its inception. Nurses often know their patients personally more than the doctors they work with do. This enables them to voice things that parents or their children may feel they need to be more confident expressing themselves and educate patients on their rights and needs.

Pediatric nurses, in particular, are some of the best advocates for the children that they serve and work with. In pediatric nursing, advocacy is central to the diligent care of a child because of their vulnerability and inability to make self-sufficient, mature decisions. Despite its integral core to pediatric nursing, advocacy has been difficult to define and operationalize within clinical practices. 

Let’s unpack together what advocacy is, how nurses have changed the game in child advocacy, and what different nursing careers (specifically, Family Nurse Practitioners) bring to the table regarding caring for our children and patients. 

What is advocacy? 

In 2013, Frances Howlin conducted and published a Hermeneutic study to uncover advocacy in children’s nursing. Through data analysis following Benner’s (1994) method, advocacy themes were identified and defined within the context of nursing practices. 

Some of the themes of advocacy within clinical practice reflected in the study were as follows:

  • Child advocacy as protection.
  • Representing the expressed wishes of the parent/child.
  • Enabling a child’s voice to be heard. 

Tangibly, this looks like nurses acting in the best interests of a child and facilitating children advocating for themselves. Simply put, if a nurse does not feel that a child’s best interests are primarily being taken care of, they are responsible for seeking assistance and pushing for change. 

Who Can Advocate for Children in Medical Scenarios? 

Every pediatric nurse can be an advocate for the children they serve if they have a passion and concern for the well-being of a child and have the knowledge and skill set to promote the best optimal outcome for the child. 

As pediatric patients (and their parents) are equipped with medical knowledge that their nurses share, they can also make medical decisions and self-advocate. 

Many organizations and educational resources are dedicated to equipping nurses from all disciplines to speak up in tough medical situations and champion their patients. 

How can nurses start to advocate for children in their care?

Nurses can fill the gap for their patients and patient families in various ways, starting with their education and training. They can start by accessing the SPN Advocacy Tool Kit, a reference guide for all current advocacy information. This guide includes information on key healthcare policy issues. Things like child health insurance, the Affordable Care Act, organizations that support child welfare initiatives, family care, and policies on advocacy are referenced in this tool kit. Nurses also have access to resources regarding communicating with legislators to make changes like relevant resources and sample letters. 

The goal of nursing resources like this is to enable and equip those working in the nursing field to initiate, facilitate, and support pro-child, pro-family, and pro-advocacy activities. 

Advocacy experiences in the nursing field can be incredibly rewarding but can also, at times, feel frustrating or incur some measure of risk. Some practical ways that nurses can stand in the gap for their pediatric patients are by alleviating their pain, excessing management, and protecting children from inadequate or inappropriate behavior from other health practitioners. 

Nurses are at the frontlines in clinical practice. They communicate protocols and procedures to their patients. Nurses mediate between patients, families, and staff members at medical facilities. They help their patients manage the healthcare services that are needed and investigate complaints as they come up during medical practice. 

Nurses that appreciate and support children’s rights in hospital settings dampen the effects of an environment that can be scary to children, improve the diagnosis and recovery process for a child, and provide a sense of consistency that children (and their parents) need during vulnerable times. Nurses can also educate parents of sick children on children’s rights surrounding health services so that parents are aware of how to acquire the services they need and speak up when their child’s best interests are not met. 

Nurses play a pivotal role in supporting families and patients to fight for the treatments they need and take part in seeing health results improve because of their care. 

What are some of the more pressing issues that nurses are advocating for? 

The SPN Healthcare Policy and Advocacy Committee (HPAC) is an organization that engages and walks alongside pediatric nurses to improve the healthcare system as a whole and the health of patients and families on a personal level. The main movement that the HPAC pushes for is influencing healthcare organizations and public policy for the good of healthcare patients and practitioners everywhere.

As of June 2022, here are some of the more high-priority ticket items that the HPAC is advocating for that directly support children having their medical, emotional, and physical needs met. 

Nurse staffing shortage: the shortage of nurses in the field has created a disparity beyond needing more hands on deck. The nursing shortage has taken a toll on the pediatric nursing community. 

Pediatric mental health: There is simply not a large enough bank of resources for children struggling with mental health issues. Nurses can advocate for mental wellness in children by having enough information at their fingertips. This can be through assessment, knowledge, and skill sets that can provide beneficial care for children struggling with mental health. 

Pediatric violence and injuries: Pediatric nurses are responsible for assessing risk factors for injuries in children, identifying and recognition of evidence of physical violence, provision of guidance for children and families, recognizing emotional injuries, and educating children and parents regarding gun violence. That is a lot of responsibility for nurses to carry as advocates and voices for children that may not have a voice of their own.

Health disparities: Nurses are responsible for advocating for children (and patients of any age) to have access to resources that health disparities may create barriers to. 

Social influences on health: Many factors influence the health and well-being of children. The five categories of these determinants are a family’s economic stability, quality of and access to education, quality access to healthcare, neighborhood and community, and social community.

Gender identity: The SPN has been working hard to create resources that educate pediatric nurses on the developmental and emotional needs of children walking through sexual and gender identity. 

Pediatric physical wellness: Of course, one of the main (and most obvious) ways that nurses support and advocate for children is by providing excellent medical care to promote wellness and prevent illness.

As you can see, nurses have many causes to advocate for children in nursing, and their voices as medical practitioners matter. Having extensive skills, knowledge, and access to resources is critical for nurses to be well-equipped and prepared to care for children and provide them with a safe place to share their voices and treatment needs. 

Why become a family nurse practitioner?

Why become a family nurse practitioner? Well, let us explain. If you want to advance your nursing career and serve patients in new ways with higher autonomy, chances for career growth, and a renewed sense of personal validation, becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner could be for you.  

The first step to becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) is to complete an fully accredited FNP degree, such as the ones offered by Marymount University. The degree will enable you to serve patients in ways other medical care professionals can’t. With an arsenal of skills to treat patients from the initial onset of illness through the tailing parts of recovery, FNPs are fully equipped to assess, diagnose, order necessary tests, and even admit patients into a hospital. FNPs can practice more independently, allowing them to see a more streamlined, seamless care cycle with their patients. 

There are many reasons to consider career transitioning into the FNP field. Below are a few considerations. 

Career flexibility: FNPs can find work in all kinds of settings. From schools to clinics, hospitals to private practices, FNPs can take their work and experience almost anywhere. Because of increased training and fluency in medical practices, NPs can do more with less supervision. This allows NPs to see care from beginning to end: assessment, diagnosis, testing, and transferring patients to specialists. 

Increased job market: FNPs are on the cusp of an exploding job market, and the potential for job growth is still steadily growing. NPs are becoming increasingly popular for patients needing primary care, which makes for a comfortable position in terms of job security.

Leadership opportunities: Whether this looks like delegating more tasks to your clinical staff, representing the profession in committees, or taking part in policy development, your voice grows a new sense of authority when you add NP at the end of your name. 

Better hours: Because most practices that involve NPs are open Monday-Friday during daytime hours, your most consistent schedule will follow this same pattern (save a weekend or so per month that you may be on-call). This makes for a great work-life balance and more control of your schedule than many RN positions. 

Higher income potential: Because of their training and experience, FNPs can make more money than RNs. The average salary of an NP hovers around $90,000 annually. NP jobs are typically attached to handsome bonuses and perks beyond the paycheck. 

Autonomy: FNPs are equipped and trained to take on greater responsibilities than RNs, with less supervision. Going down this path, you can give yourself more freedom in your work. 

Ability to Provide Care on the Front End: One of the fulfilling benefits that FNPs see in their practice is the ability to provide primary and preventative care to their patients. 

Ability to Pursue Specialty Fields: Having an NP at the end of your name opens up a world of possibilities for working in specialty fields like cardiology, infectious disease, or pulmonology. The FNP degree brings flexibility to your job scope that you may not have known you wanted (or needed). 

Family Nurse Practitioners are in the business of making a difference for their patients, from birth to death. 

Nurses are some of the most crucial professionals that contribute to the overall health of our society. With the nurses in our communities, there would be far more health and healing. They educate and advocate for us when we don’t know or cannot do it ourselves. Nurses are our voice when we may not have one of our own. They mediate for us as civilians when we can’t understand our medical needs or rights.

Nurses help us communicate with doctors, hospital staff, and loved ones when we don’t have the words. They comfort endless amounts of people when they care for their loved ones as their health is failing, deteriorating, or declining. Not only do they care for our society’s physical health, but our societal mental well-being, too. 

The nursing profession is not easy, but it sure is rewarding. Nursing is not for the faint of heart. These men and women are some of our community’s strongest, physically and mentally. Serving patients in the early hours of the morning and the late hours of the night, their selfless care makes us better in more ways than one. 

While they spend their time advocating, fighting, and caring for us, let’s spend our time doing the very same for them. Check-in on your local nurses. When you see them, remind them you care. 

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