For many caregivers of patients with cancer, caring for a loved one becomes a part-time or full-time job. As they provide support during this journey, family caregivers see firsthand how difficult it can be for patients to receive the care and treatment they need. Something as simple as transportation to and from an appointment can become a regular source of stress.
Caregivers become more sensitive to the needs of patients with cancer and often become ambassadors for cancer awareness and research. What might have started as a wish to help a loved one could very well evolve into a genuine passion.
Many caregivers of patients with cancer channel this passion into a new job, or even a new career. Because many caregivers don’t have the educational background or training to take on clinical responsibilities, they may choose to explore patient advocacy.
Patient Advocate, Defined
A cancer-related patient advocate involves advocating and being a voice for people living with cancer and their support communities. This advocacy comes in many forms, including, but not limited to:
- Speaking up for those who need help
- Helping patients with cancer and caregivers navigate their cancer journey
- Serving as a liaison between patients with cancer and healthcare professionals
- Advocating for the improvement in the quality of cancer care
- Increasing awareness of specific types of cancer
- Raising money for cancer research and supporting clinical trials
- Supporting efforts to overcome barriers to care, such as cost and logistics
- Collaborating with service providers to ensure their services are aligned with the specific needs of patients with cancer
- Educating the community about the needs of patients with cancer and keeping those needs top of mind
- Educating patients newly diagnosed with cancer and their families and caregivers about what lies ahead during their cancer journey
- Engaging elected officials about healthcare policy, legislation, and regulations that affect the cancer community.
Becoming a Patient Advocate
Because patient advocacy is a relatively new field, certifications and degrees are not legally required. This is a growing field, however, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts 13% growth through 2024. More and more colleges, universities, and online education services are introducing patient advocacy programs.
The Patient Advocate Certification Board (PACB) offers a certification program to promote competence and professionalism and provide assurance of quality, safety, and ethical conduct. Those interested in pursuing certification need to confirm their eligibility, complete a self-assessment, submit an application, and schedule an exam.
There are also a number of dedicated patient advocacy organizations. For example, the National Patient Advocate Foundation, which is headquartered in Washington, DC, works at local, state, and national levels to promote access to affordable, quality healthcare. The American Cancer Center Cancer Action Network engages elected officials to ensure that cancer remains a high priority and to promote legislation and policy changes that help people with cancer.
Many private companies and healthcare organizations have created patient advocate positions. Responsibilities can vary quite a bit, and different employers require various levels of education and experience. The roles of the patient advocate for people with cancer may focus on specific areas, such as education, insurance, or patient rights. The key is to research the available jobs to see if your interests and background align with those opportunities, and then look for appropriate training, if needed.
If you’ve spent time as a cancer caregiver or you simply want to do more to support positive change in the cancer community, find out about patient advocacy for people with cancer. It could be one of the most rewarding decisions you’ll ever make.