Fashionistas! What Hats Does an Advocate Wear?

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I played golf the other day with a group of women I didn’t know well. I came away from the round being less pleased with my golf game (I really can’t putt!), but much pleased with the conversation and its application for our health and patient advocacy profession. In fact, I was so pleased with it, I went home and recorded notes so I could remember the conversation to share with you.

The ladies I played with were very curious about advocates. They all had healthcare horror stories to share. One had recently been through some bad medical experiences with her husband. One by one throughout the morning, she told me about some healthcare system transgression he (they) had suffered. For each one, I described to her some ways an independent advocate might have helped (with the emphasis on “independent” for all the obvious reasons.)

Ultimately the conversation produced a list of “hats” – the many kinds of help and support an advocate can provide. It wasn’t a list of services, such as the list we’ve included on the AdvoConnection Directory site. Instead it was more about benefits and support.

So I share this list with you today and invite you to add to it below. Each hat completes the sentence: An (independent) advocate is a _________________.

Of course, not all advocates wear all these hats, but all advocates wear at least some of them.

So, advocate fashionistas… What hats can you add to the list?


An advocate is a guide (navigator) to the healthcare system. This one is probably the most descriptive of an advocate, no matter what services he or she performs for patient-clients. It’s perhaps the most ‘classic’ of job descriptions in advocacy.


image of a hatAn advocate is an expert. Advocates are experts in finding resources and uncovering options in the healthcare system. We are also experts in everything else listed here.


image of a hatAn advocate is a teacher. Helping clients to better understand everything from their diagnoses, to treatment options, to pros and cons, to why one surgeon might be a better choice than another, to how to ask questions during an appointment, or to choose a nursing home, good advocates spend as much time teaching their clients as they do performing advocacy services. Please, do not rap your clients’ knuckles with a ruler, nor should you throw chalk. (Ha! giving away my age! Teachers don’t even use chalk any more.)


image of a hatAn advocate is a translator. We all know med-speak is that language spoken by doctors and surgeons to sound pompous and smart, and to be sure their patients don’t understand what’s going on. (A lemming client is easier to work with than one who understands.)  Advocates are forever translating to help their clients be more knowledgeable about their journeys. 


image of a hatAn advocate is an ear.   We know about what motivates a patient to hire an advocate:  FUDGE. Fear, uncertainty, doubt, guilt, and exhaustion. Those emotions and attributes used to be calmed and soothed by doctors. That is no longer true. Empathetic advocates fill that void by LISTENING, calming, soothing, and in general being the one person who brings peace of mind.


image of a hatAn advocate is a security blanket. An extension of the “ear” hat… the security blanket hat is worn by those advocates who help out in healthcare-related financial crises. They do their best to keep the healthcare system’s money-grab from ruining a patient-client’s financial future.


image of a hatAn advocate is a travel agent.  You don’t need to be working in the medical tourism niche to be an advocate travel agent. You do need to be able to plan your patient-client’s journey carefully. You’ll be forever juggling their “travel” details: appointments, hospitalizations, maybe rehab, picking up prescriptions. Some patient-clients take the scenic route, making your job as an advocate-travel-agent far more, ahem… interesting.


image of a hatAn advocate is a referee. (You know we needed at least one sports-metaphor!) This one is quite descriptive of the advocate who needs to help families through crises, negotiate with hospitals and doctors who issue outrageous bills, or even just work with the doctor who has prescribed a drug a patient-client can’t afford. As in sports, this hat represents the advocate as the neutral party who helps everyone in the relationship understand what is right and fair.


image of a hatAn advocate is a disciplinarian. Mr. Frederickson doesn’t want to take the drug he promised the doctor he would take, or walk the mile each day that he promised he would walk, or stop drinking that sugary soft drink that’s ruining his blood sugar measurements, as he promised. As his advocate, it’s up to you to encourage Mr. Frederickson to behave himself.


image of a hatAn advocate is a detective.  From uncovering treatment options, to finding nursing home alternatives, to translating an EOB, to discovering clinical trials, to vetting possible doctors for second opinions, the role of advocate as gumshoe, like that of guide, is one of the most important hats an advocate wears. And – an extra detective role: distinguishing those potential clients who are serious about the possibility of hiring you, from those who just want to pick your brain, or even expect you to do something illegal. Yes, we advocates must always channel our inner Columbos (or even Olivia Bensons) to do our jobs well, and protect ourselves, too.


image of a hatAn advocate is a business person. Ah yes. Do you want to succeed as an independent patient advocate?  Those who have built successful practices will tell you just how important this hat is. In fact, it’s the one hat that will truly cover you to keep those raindrops from falling on your head.


image of a hatAn advocate may become a friend. Many advocates have told stories of fondness for their clients, becoming their friend or like family – beyond the advocate-client business relationship. This hat is best worn after the business relationship ends, but it’s definitely a sign of having done a job well and right – win-win for all parties.


So those are the hats our golf foursome discussed. Perhaps not exactly fashionistas, but you get the point.

It’s your turn! What other hats do you wear?  Complete this sentence:  An advocate is a _____ .




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  1. Linda Salvatori  February 22, 2018

    An advocate is a health coach who uses motivational interviewing and SMART goals to move patients to self management of their chronic diseases.


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