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Speaking Up: Ways to Self-Advocate When Seeking Medical Treatment

Many of us have gone through an exhausting process of trying to advocate for ourselves when seeking medical assistance. Whether ailments are physical or mental it can be a difficult endeavour to receive support when our needs are being invalidated or ignored by healthcare workers.

Focusing on the patient’s symptoms and experiences, rather than the illness itself, promotes improved holistic care and quality of life. However, this may not always be possible for several reasons; healthcare professionals (particularly nurses) are juggling an intense workload, high patient demand, lack of resources such as government funding and a shortage of staff. As a result, it can be difficult for professionals to provide deep individualised care every time.

While today’s nursing postgraduate courses and other educational programs put a strong emphasis on patient advocacy; the need for more manpower to allocate specialised care remains. So, until this happens, it may fall to patients to stick up for themselves. In other words, self-advocacy.

What Is Self-Advocacy?

Self-advocacy refers to the ability to represent oneself accurately to take action. Or, in other words, standing up for yourself by expressing your needs and values.

In the context of being a patient, this usually involves collaborating with your health team, sharing all relevant information as a means of coming up with a plan, and making informed decisions regarding your health and well-being.

Show Up for Yourself

Just as you are a unique person with varied skills and abilities, the same goes for any healthcare professional. While those working in healthcare are held to a high standard of qualification and demonstrated skills, they’re still only human, and therefore subject to human biases and errors in judgement. This is where self-advocacy is extremely important, and in some cases has saved lives.

These professionals may not always have the correct perspective or context when formulating decisions about treatment options simply because of miscommunication, lack of information or perhaps even ignorance, rather than malicious intentions.

So that might leave you thinking, “How do I self-advocate when seeking medical treatment?”. Thankfully, self-advocating is pretty straightforward and effective with the right techniques. Below are some methods of advocating for yourself when seeking medical attention.

Knowledge Is Power

Gain the knowledge to understand the scope of your condition as well as legal policies healthcare providers must abide by when dealing with patients. This is the first step towards ensuring that you are informed of your rights and equipped with helpful information that you can take to the doctor. This way, you can assert yourself more easily and take notice of any signs leading to potential abuse of power or bias-fuelled malpractice (that is, lack of due diligence or ethical conduct because of perceived differences in gender, race, sexuality, weight, disability etc). The more confidently you understand your situation, the more empowered you are to make informed decisions.

Know Your Worth

It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking you are a burden to others or that your situation is not as ‘important’ or ‘urgent’. You may believe that your ailment isn’t that bad, or that it will just pass on its own; maybe you even have a sense of guilt about taking up a doctor’s time or another patient’s place in the queue. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that your concerns regarding your health and wellbeing are valid and hold high priority, regardless of how you feel about them. You are a human being receiving help from a system specifically made for this reason. You are just as important as any other patient and everyone deserves to be heard, including you.

Help Them Help You

There is no shame in expressing your wants and needs to your healthcare team; it’s their job to answer your questions, provide comfort, reduce doubt and stress, and clear up any confusion. You might even consider keeping records on appointments, medications or any other medical history to ensure productive future interactions. After all, the more your doctor, nurse, psychiatrist, physiotherapist, etc can learn about your situation, the better perspective they will have to provide effective treatment options. 

So, allow yourself the freedom to share all relevant information and to feel confident that in turn, any future examinations with your medical professional keep your best interests at heart and listen to your experience.

Bring Additional Support

Bringing along a family member or friend that you trust can go a long way in helping you stay focused on addressing all that needs to be addressed. If nothing else, having someone there who you know is on your side and cares about your well-being is enough to lend emotional support during difficult or serious conversations.

Self-advocacy is an absolute necessity, especially in the medical field. Doctors, nurses, and medical specialists have expertise and tenure: but they also have a legal and ethical responsibility to ensure that they examine all patient’s concerns with care and professional rigour. Despite this, some medical professionals are, sadly, sometimes a little devil-may-care with their patient’s wellbeing. This is where self-advocacy matters. Remember, you have the right to be heard, and you have the right to competent medical attention.


World of Medical Saviours (WOMS) is a website formed by a group of medicos who are embarking to provide facts, tips and knowledge related to health and lifestyle. This website proves to be a great platform for the medical enthusiast and also for those medicos searching to outgrowth their knowledge about the medical field.

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