Become a Patient Advocate or Navigator: Degrees and Certificates

Learn to Be a Patient Advocate

Doctor and nurse reviewing medical chart in clinic
Medical personnel at a clinic. Hero Images/Getty Images

If you want to earn a credential as a patient advocate or health navigator, there are more than two dozen programs available. If you aren't sure what type of program you need, or whether you should spend money on courses or programs before you become a patient advocate, you may want to learn how to choose the right advocate or navigator education program for you.

The question is often asked whether someone needs to be certified as a patient advocate in order to do patient advocacy work.

Learn more about the difference, and the availability of patient advocacy certification.

The programs listed below are a sampling of what is available. If you would like to be notified when new programs are added by the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates, you can sign up for notices on their site.

Basic Certificate-Granting Patient Advocacy and Navigator Programs

Patient Advocates, also known as Patient Navigators or Healthcare Navigators work directly for a patient, helping that person get the best healthcare possible from his or her doctors, hospitals and others who actually provide the care the patient needs. Learn more about being a patient advocate or healthcare navigator.

  • RN Patient Advocates runs training programs for nurses who wish to assist individuals as private patient advocates and navigators as well.
  • Sonoma (California) State University offers a two-semester program in Patient Advocacy and Navigation training with a special emphasis on Integrative Health Care. A survey of complementary and alternative medicine therapies is included in the training, and the program is taught from a holistic perspective. Students are placed in internships in hospitals, medical clinics and Integrative Health Centers during the second semester. Learn more through the Sonoma State Extended Education website.
  • Empowered UCLA Extensions offers a specialized online one-year patient advocacy certificate program (program is served through an iPad app) for people looking to become patient advocates or advance in the career of patient advocacy.
  • Anyone just exploring patient advocacy as a possible career can learn the basics and network with others who are currently working in the field through The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates, a membership site for health advocates.

    Hospital Patient Representatives or Advocates Programs

    Unlike patient advocates who work directly for patients, hospital patient advocates work for the hospital or other facilities in an ombudsman or customer-service capacity. Learn more about being a hospital patient advocate, then see if this program is of interest to you:

    • Hospital Patient Advocate Program from Cleveland State University
      This program was developed in conjunction with the American Hospital Association, specifically for advocates who work in hospitals. It is entirely conducted online, and is considered continuing education.

    Specialized Focus Patient Advocacy or Navigator Programs

    • Complementary and Alternative Medicine Focus: The Smith Center (for Healing & the Arts) (Washington, DC and Maryland) provides an annual patient navigation training for those who are interested in integrative cancer care. The training is a blend of didactic and experiential sessions that provide a comprehensive learning experience. The goal is to provide each participant with the knowledge, resources and tools to establish an integrative navigation practice that offers each client individualized, holistic support throughout the entire cancer experience, from screening and diagnosis through treatment, recovery, survivorship and end-of-life. More information can be found at Smith Center's website.

      Bachelor's and Master's Degree Program in Patient Advocacy

      The following is a list of programs that grant a Bachelor's or Master's degree in patient advocacy or navigation. You may not need, or be ready for these more extensive degrees. You can learn about patient advocacy certificate-granting programs on Page 1 of this article.

      • Sarah Lawrence College / Masters Degree or Certificate Program in Health Advocacy
        The oldest formal health advocacy program in the United States, the Sarah Lawrence program can prepare a student for a variety of types of advocacy careers. Emphases may be on assisting individuals, focusing on community health, or working in health policy. From the Sarah Lawrence web description, "Health Advocacy graduates work in direct care as patient representatives, ombudsmen, educators and health advisers. As health information specialists, advocates work to empower others."
      • University of Illinois at Chicago offers two innovative, interdisciplinary completely online programs. Join nationally renowned patient safety authorities David Mayer, MD and Timothy McDonald, MD, JD and other patient safety experts as you earn a master’s degree in Patient Safety Leadership or a graduate certificate in Patient Safety, Error Science and Full Disclosure at nationally ranked University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Medicine. The program is ideal for those currently involved or considering working in patient safety efforts, including nurses, doctors, attorneys, hospital administrators and patient advocates.
      • The University of Wisconsin / Center for Patient Partnerships A variety of programs are offered for graduate students to address the medical, legal and financial aspects of advocacy.

      More Information on Health Advocate and Health Navigator Instruction

      Continue Reading