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How to Become a Patient Advocate or Navigator

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Updated August 16, 2013

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Is There a Degree, Certification or Credential Needed to Be a Patient Advocate?

Because paid patient advocates are so new to healthcare, there are few formal degree or credentialing programs available. Most patient advocates are self-proclaimed, coming from backgrounds varying from nursing or other healthcare professions, to social work or education. Some patient advocates have simply gained on-the-job experience helping a loved one navigate the system, and now they hope to expand that experience into a career helping others.

The existing health and patient advocacy programs are available mostly for those wishing to receive a master's degree, or for medical students who wish to add advocacy as an adjunct to their medical degrees. More recently, online programs have been developed, too.

Case managers may earn a credential which can be earned through a combination of education and testing. Most case managers have nursing degrees or social work degrees to begin with, then take a test that makes them eligible for jobs that require the case manager credential. Most are employed with managed care/HMO (health management organizations), or by government entities to work directly with patients. (See note about case manager employment.)

Since 2008, several programs specifically called Patient Advocate Programs or Health Advocate programs, have begun to claim they bestow a certification for patient advocates. Many of the programs are excellent, but since there is no standardization, they can't promise a nationally (or internationally) recognized credential. You'll want to make yourself familiar with the pros and cons of these credentials.

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