Patient Advocacy

What Is a Patient Advocate, and How Do I Become One?

Cancer treatment is complicated; an oncology patient advocate can help uncomplicate the journey by advocating and being a voice for their patients with cancer.
Web Exclusives – July 6, 2021

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.

Share this:

Recommended For You
Patient AdvocacyFamily Members
Coast-to-Coast Bike Ride for Cancer: Riding in Peter’s Memory
By Mark DeLong
Mark DeLong’s son Peter was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, a rare bone cancer, at age 14, and died when he was just 16. Mark uses advocacy to raise funds for cancer research in Peter’s memory.
Patient AdvocacyBreast Cancer
Both Sides of the Cancer Story
By Nicole Fuller
Nicole Fuller went from being on the patient side of breast cancer to becoming an oncology navigator and advocate, cancer exercise specialist, and motivational speaker. This is her story.
Brain CancerPatient StoriesPatient Advocacy
The Jessica Morris Story: Founding the OurBrainBank Movement to Help People with Glioblastoma
By Jessica Morris, Martha Wilkie
Jessica Morris was blindsided by her brain cancer diagnosis after hiking with friends and having a full-blown seizure. Frustrated by the lack of treatment options for and the short life expectancy associated with glioblastoma, she created the nonprofit organization OurBrainBank.
Fertility PreservationPatient AdvocacyPatient Stories
Three Words Is All It Took for My Life to Change Drastically: The Chick Mission
By Amanda Rice
Amanda Rice was 37 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time. She describes her decision to freeze her eggs after her diagnosis, which led her to launch the nonprofit organization The Chick Mission to educate women on the impact of cancer treatment on becoming mothers.
Last modified: June 22, 2021

Subscribe to CONQUER: the patient voice magazine

Receive timely cancer news & updates, patient stories, and more.

Race or Ethnicity
Profession or Role
Primary Interest