Should I Be a Health Care Advocate?
Health care advocates make it their mission to promote reform and provide support in the health care industry. Many advocates work directly with clients, assisting them in obtaining medical insurance and operating as a liaison between insurance companies, providers, and the client. Others may fill a variety of positions in existing advocacy organizations or choose to create their own. Advocacy falls under the nonprofit sector, sometimes called the independent sector. Professional health care advocates may spend a good deal of time away from the office, meeting with members of the public or staging informational events. The position can include weekend and evening hours as well.
The beauty of this career path is its versatility. Individuals with varying backgrounds could perform work that would fall under the job description of a health care advocate. For instance, a lawyer, politician, or community-based organizer could fit the description of a health care advocate.
A degree is not necessarily needed to work in this field; however, it may be beneficial for managerial positions. Aspiring health care advocates should have two or more years experience in social services and/or the health care industry. These professionals should have good active listening, speaking, and organization skills. They should be self-motivated, possess empathy, have a connection with the community, demonstrate passion, and be dedicated to health care reform. Computer skills needed include the ability to use e-mail and Microsoft Office software, including Word and Excel.
According to 2016 data from Payscale.com, the median wage for patient advocates was $41,013.
Steps to Be a Health Care Advocate
Step 1: Complete Applicable Education
Educational requirements for health care advocacy positions vary. An individual who hopes to start his or her own non-profit group or hold an executive position for an existing advocacy agency would do well to pursue higher education. Certificate programs include nonprofit management and health care advocacy, while advanced educational options, such as a Master of Science in Health Communications, can provide more in-depth knowledge on how to evaluate, create, and implement health care advocacy programs.
Some college programs offer opportunities to gain practical experience in social services or health care. Students may choose to search for health care advocacy internships to supplement their education. The American Medical Association facilitates advocacy for professionals and patients, and it can provide useful networking opportunities.
Step 2: Get Hands-On Experience
Many health care advocates begin their career paths by volunteering. Not only does this give them valuable hands-on experience, but it also helps prospective employees decide if an organization is the right fit for them. Nonprofit hiring managers look for a track record of support for health care issues, and volunteer experience can give applicants a leg up.
Not all health care advocates start their careers in the philanthropic sector. Gaining pertinent career experience in the for-profit industry can also help further a career as a health care advocate. Public relations and fundraising skills are in high demand in this field.
Step 3: Find Work
Candidates with adequate experience and education can begin applying for health care advocate positions commensurate to their skill set. They can also follow the proper legal channels and create their own advocacy agency supporting their very own brand of change. Health care advocates may appear as guest speakers, addressing crowds across the country.
Additionally, health care advocates can register with organizations doing similar work. For instance, the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants works directly with advocates across the country providing them with resources, networking, and opportunities to continue their education. This can be an invaluable resource for individuals looking to collaborate with other like-minded folks or brainstorm solutions to common problems.
There is not one specific educational background needed to work as a health care advocate, though a few years' experience in health care or social services is typically needed. And individuals aspiring to managerial positions should earn a certificate or degree in health communications, health care advocacy, nonprofit management, or a related field.