A female nurse is advocating for herself during a healthcare team meeting.

As a nurse, you're a powerful advocate for the well-being of your patients and their families, but have you ever advocated for yourself, your colleagues, or even the nursing profession? Or, for that matter, has anyone ever advocated for you?

Self-advocacy in nursing is an important topic, given the ongoing staffing shortage. After all, many of us are mandated to work overtime, asked to come in on our days off (then manipulated and coerced if we say no), and expected to hold off taking vacation time. Then, to top it all off, we're not being supported when we start to burn out. So, if ever there was a time to drive self-advocacy in nursing, it's now.

This article isn't for those in leadership who should advocate for you, and it's not about finger-pointing at politicians—it's about you. The new nurse. The mature nurse. The passionate nurse or the nurse who is burnt out and ready to quit.

The Significance of Nurse Advocacy

Nursing school taught us how to advocate for our patients, but more needs to happen to coach us on advocating for ourselves and our profession. Some of us have tried to advocate for workplace issues but have been shut down—so we shut up, lose our passion, and barely tolerate our jobs.

However, the safe care of patients depends on nurses effectively advocating for adequate staffing, training, wages, and policies that support sound practice in a safe environment. The American Nurses Association declares nurse advocacy to be the "pillar of nursing," not only for patients but also in the workplace, the community, and the political arena.

Learning to self-advocate will ignite your passion again, improve your self-confidence, and give you a clear vision of growing professionally.

Nurturing Your Nursing Career

Self-advocacy begins with recognizing your self-worth, which means living a healthy, balanced lifestyle–and giving yourself the time and energy to set goals and achieve them, such as caring for your physical and mental health, taking lunch breaks, and not accepting overtime shifts when you feel burnt out.

Many nurses succumb to the never-ending demands of the job and don't have the energy to think beyond surviving their next shift. However, it's a learning process that requires vision and determination, but many have succeeded. 

Some tangible ways to self-advocate for your own needs and goals are:

  • Look for a more experienced nurse to mentor you.

  • Find a nursing career coach to help you map out the steps to achieve your dream.

  • Say no to overtime and instead focus on achieving a healthy lifestyle

You can also take control of your nursing career by working with ShiftMed. Download our nursing jobs app and complete the onboarding, and you'll be able to work shifts when, where, and how often you want. Discover the perks of being a ShiftMed nurse here.

Nurse Advocacy Success Stories

Kim is a single mom who left a difficult relationship to restart her life. She lived in subsidized housing while working part-time and attending school to get a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Kim learned how to advocate for herself and her children. Then, when she became a registered nurse, she could advocate for her colleagues. Although she never lobbied for public policy, she advocated for the safety of her colleagues when the hospital designed a psychiatric unit for teenagers.

Dené Dainotto is another nurse who has learned to self-advocate to achieve her goals. She worked as an ICU nurse for five years before she entered graduate school to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA). She recognizes the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle to achieve her dreams, so she heads to the gym daily to nourish her body and mind.

Advocating for the Nursing Profession

Once you’ve mastered self-advocacy, you can begin advocating for the profession. When you identify an issue at your place of work, such as safe staffing or receiving an adequate orientation, ask your colleagues to join in a group effort to influence change since there is power in numbers.

You can also request to be a representative on hospital boards and committees that seldom have a proportionate representation of front-line workers despite making decisions that affect them.

Then, if and when you're ready to advocate for policy development and change at the state or federal level, the American Nurses Association (ANA) stands with open arms to welcome your participation. They make it easy to get involved. Visit their federal advocacy program website RNAction, where they suggest to:

  • Obtain a National Provider Identifier as a first step in getting recognized for your work.

  • Get involved with nursing advocacy campaigns.

  • Send an editable pre-written email to your member of Congress. 

  • Sign up to receive the latest news in your inbox.

  • Engage with the ANA Capitol Beat blog, commenting on actions, regulations, and rules that affect nurses.

A female nurse is speaking to doctors during a healthcare team meeting.

An Inspirational Nurse Advocacy Story

Dr. Jessica Peck, a nurse practitioner (NP) with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), is an example of a nurse who has influenced policy and change. She is a recognized national human trafficking expert who created a continuing education (CE) course on trafficking that's now legislated to be taken by any provider who offers direct patient care in Texas.

Navigating the Challenges of Nurse Advocacy

Some challenges you might face when you become a nurse advocate are imposter syndrome and being able to balance advocacy with your clinical responsibilities.

Imposter Syndrome

Becoming a nurse advocate might feel awkward at first. You might even feel a bit of imposter syndrome—like you're a fraud because you think you are too new at your job or don't know enough about the process. Does it help to know that you're not alone?

Even famous people struggle with imposter syndrome, including:

Michelle Obama: "I still have a little imposter syndrome… It doesn't go away, that feeling that you shouldn't take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts about our abilities, about our power, and what that power is."

Meryl Streep: "You think, 'Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don't know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?'" 

Lady Gaga: "I still sometimes feel like a loser kid in high school, and I just have to pick myself up and tell myself that I'm a superstar every morning so that I can get through this day and be for my fans what they need me to be." (Walter, 2022).

So, don't let imposter syndrome prevent you from advocating for yourself or your profession.

Balancing Advocacy With Clinical Responsibilities

You might wonder if you can balance taking on more responsibility when working full-time as a nurse. Some suggestions to lessen your workload include approaching your manager and asking if they could allocate some of your shifts to an advocacy role.

Reach out to your union to see if there are paid union hours that you could tap into if you’re working on lobbying for policy changes. Ask your employer if your hours working with a hospital committee can be traded for paid assigned shifts.

5 Tools for Nurse Advocacy

If you search for how to advocate for yourself and others online, you’ll quickly realize there isn't a clear pathway to follow. You'll find companies selling their advice, articles on advocating for yourself within the health system if you're sick, and blog posts on advocating for patients.

So, how do you learn how to build your advocacy skills? Listen to the advice of those who've learned how to effectively self-advocate. Here's what their advice might look like:

1. Take Ownership of Your Career Take time off to consider your vision, goals, and career pathway. Write everything down and revisit your notes at least once a year. You can only advocate for yourself if you've established a clear path and know where you're going.

2. Boast About Your Accomplishments What have you done to benefit your employer or the nursing unit you're working on? Be sure to tell your manager otherwise, the details will get swept away in the busyness of the day. Keep a list and highlight your accomplishments during a yearly review.

3. Learn New Skills Intentionally learn new skills, such as leadership abilities, that will benefit you on your future pathway. Does your company offer a leadership course? If not, there are many free masterclasses to take online where you can learn skills without buying the course. Read leadership books. Put what you've learned into practice.

4. Develop Relationships and Network People don't just casually fall into leadership roles or a different career pathway. They have built relationships with others around them, which becomes the basis for networking. Tell these people your goals and aspirations. Many will offer advice about how they have reached their positions or have friends and colleagues who can help you.

5. Listen Do a lot of listening, especially when you're just beginning. Only begin to offer suggestions and advice once you've shown that you're a team player, not someone who complains.


Nurse advocacy is a powerful tool for personal and professional growth. To truly excel in nursing, you must learn the art of valuing and speaking up for yourself, your colleagues, and the profession. Essentially, it's about asserting your needs and championing the collective voice of nurses everywhere.

Alice Blackmore, MN, RN, Content Writer

Alice is a registered nurse and healthcare writer. She has more than 20 years of nursing experience, which ranges from labor and delivery to long-term care, with pediatrics, community nursing, and critical care sandwiched in the middle.

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