strong and self-confident

Just What Does It Take to Be a Successful Patient Advocate?

I heard recently from a woman who represents many of you. Specifically, she wanted to know whether she could be successful if she committed herself to advocacy. She isn’t sure if she knows enough to be able to handle every client situation that comes her way.

She wanted a pep talk. She wanted me to convince her that she knows enough.

Yes, it was time to invoke one of my favorite quotations, provided to us by Henry Ford of Model “T” fame:

“If you think you can do a thing, or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”

The truth is – it’s not really that simple. In fairness, self-doubt about the ability to do anything new plagues all of us. Whether it was your first job babysitting, or bagging groceries, or you’re changing careers at mid-life, or you’ve had to pivot because of the pandemic, or you’re thinking about starting up an encore career at age 60+… you’re putting yourself out there, you’re testing your own mettle, and you’re taking a risk.

The very definition of risk taking means it could go badly. On the flip side, it also means you could be a spectacular success!

But something about her question quite bothered me. It noodled around in my head for a little while, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized she had asked the wrong question.

I don’t think her concern should be whether she knows enough about the advocacy work itself for two reasons:

  • First, almost any help she provides to assist others will be better than what they are getting now. As far as improving a patient-client’s access to care, you almost can’t fail.
  • Second, one of the most important lessons we teach advocates is to reach out to appropriate others when you are faced with questions and needs outside your own competencies – no one should, or needs to, go it alone. Knowing there will always be someone to pitch in and help out creates an advocate’s safety net.

So. If she asked the wrong questions, then…

What are the right questions?

  1. Am I ready to be in business for myself, with an understanding of the legal and marketing aspects of the work in front of me?
  2. Am I funded well enough to carry my expenses for 6+ months while I build a business and begin deriving income?
  3. Can I articulate and explain the Allegiance Factor so that others truly understand the role of an independent advocate?
  4. Do I fully understand and embrace the Health Advocate’s Code of Conduct and Professional Standards?
  5. Do I know how to hustle on behalf of my clients? Am I comfortable with the hustle?
  6. When I need help, whether it is business assistance or help for my clients that I can’t provide, have I already uncovered the resources that can help fill those gaps so I’ll be prepared to help when the need arises? Do I know where to find new resources as the need arises?

Henry Ford’s quotation was about being confident, and absolutely, advocates need confidence. The very core of advocacy requires confidence! If we aren’t confident enough in the business we will conduct and the assistance we will provide, then we won’t make it. Period.

But it’s possible the caller’s discomfort and lack of confidence are more about the fact that she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know, than about whether or not she can help everyone who asks her for help.

How is she supposed to figure it out?

There are so many resources available to do that! Begin with Health Advocate Resources. Join The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates (and download the freebie booklet called Getting Started as a Health or Patient Advocate) or purchase The Health Advocate’s Start and Grow Your Own Practice Handbook. Jump into the APHA Discussion Forum. Take courses to fill in your gaps.

By immersing yourself in the environment of advocacy, and finding others to connect and carry on conversations, eventually (short or long term) you’ll develop that right list of questions, and that confidence to plunge in with both feet. Or – you’ll determine that independent advocacy is not the not the right fit for you – an equally important outcome when it just isn’t.

If you keep asking yourself questions, eventually they will begin to align – THAT is when you will realize you have gained the confidence needed to take the steps you wish to take, to fulfill the dreams you wish to fulfill – or leave them behind.

Should those dreams include helping others get the healthcare they need and deserve, you’ll no longer be asking the wrong questions. You will know you CAN.

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