In addition to nonprofit organizations, private firms that specialize in patient advocacy have begun to spring up around the country. Some hospitals, specialty practices, and managed-care organizations now hire patient representatives to deal with patients' complaints, and corporations supporting large health care plans for their employees have begun to do the same. Advocates working on more widespread issues in the health care industry often find employment at governmental agencies, community organizations, and schools developing health advocacy courses or programs.
Job descriptions for advocates may also vary significantly, depending on place of employment. Patient representatives employed by hospitals, doctors' groups, or large corporations still work for improved health care for patients, but they must also balance their employers' interests with those of patients. For that reason, advocates at work on the insurance or treatment side of the industry may find that their jobs resemble more typical customer service positions designed to receive and resolve consumer complaints. Advocates employed by nonprofits don't have the same responsibility to consider the financial needs of the doctors and insurance companies, which allows them more freedom.
Contact your college career services office for help in finding your first job. Some hospitals advertise job openings for health advocates in the classified section of the newspaper or at their Web sites. You may have to start out in another position in a hospital, and move into health advocacy once you've gained some experience.
Health advocates who work as members of a staff in a hospital can advance to department manager or other administrative positions. Some health advocates may find jobs in hospices, in AIDS/HIV programs, or with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Other forms of advancement include teaching and writing about health advocacy.
Tips for Entry
Speak with a health advocate to learn more about the job.
Gain experience by working part time or on a volunteer basis in a hospital to familiarize yourself with the setting.
Get a feel for the health care field by visiting health consumer Web sites such as WebMd.