Patient Advocate: Salary, Certification & Job Description

Patient advocates work with patients, health care professionals and others to ensure that patients are educated about their health care choices. Professional certification in this field became available in 2018.

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What is a Patient Advocate?

Patient advocates work on behalf of patients, ensuring that patients have the information they need to make the best decisions about their health care. They might work for hospitals or other health care facilities, nonprofit advocacy groups or for-profit companies, or they can work independently as private patient advocates.

Patient advocate job duties can vary by type of employer, but in general, they support patients on an on-going basis to make sure patients know about available resources, including insurance choices and health care benefits programs. Patient advocates might educate patients and their families about treatment options and post-treatment care, explain to patients what their rights are in the health care system, or help patients fill out applications or appeals related to Medicaid or Medicare. They often serve as liaisons between patients and medical staff, communicating patients' questions and concerns, and they might investigate patient complaints and direct them to the appropriate person or agency for resolution.

Educational Requirements Varies by employer/position from a high school diploma to a master's degree
Job Skills Knowledge of the health care system, communication skills, empathy, knowledge of more than one language
Median Salary (2018)* $42,370
Job Outlook (2016-2026)** 5%

Source: *PayScale.com, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Employers of patient advocates may only require a minimum of a high school diploma, though college education is generally preferred. Some employers require an associate's or bachelor's degree, and some prefer candidates with a master's degree. There's also diversity in fields of study, with some employers seeking candidates with a business or healthcare-related degree and others requiring a degree in social work.

Some colleges and universities offer certificate or degree programs (usually at the graduate level) that are specific to patient advocacy. These programs often include courses in health care system basics, case management, health care law and finance, health care ethics, and communication in health care. Degree programs might also include a practicum where students can gain experience as a patient advocate in a health care setting.

Certification

The Patient Advocate Certification Board (PACB) offers voluntary professional certification for patient advocates. This is a new certification, and as of January 2018, there were no education or experience requirements to qualify for the certification exam. Those who pass the exam are awarded the Board Certified Patient Advocate (BCPA) credential. This certification must be renewed every three years by earning a set number of continuing education credits or retaking the exam.

Required Skills

Patient advocates need a working knowledge of the health care system, including a solid understanding of medical terminology, health care financing, available benefits programs and patients' rights. They also must have strong communication skills for interacting with patients, their families and medical professionals, as well as empathy for times when they must discuss grave prognoses or costly treatments with patients and their families. Additionally, some prospective employers note that speaking more than one language, such as Spanish, is desirable.

Career Outlook and Salary

For purposes of determining career outlook, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics categorizes patient advocates as customer service representatives. These workers were projected to experience a 5% change in employment between 2016 and 2026, which the BLS considers to be about as fast as average for all occupations.

PayScale.com reported that patient advocates earned a median annual salary of $42,370 as of April 2018.

Related Careers

The following careers in health care and/or social work also might be a good fit for those with an interest in patient advocacy:

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