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Starting out: Patients rely on nurses to be advocates

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We didn’t have Doctor Who in the 1990s – a fact that fills my 10-year-old brother with incredulity and horror. Instead, we had to make do with The X-Files – American and no daleks – but still guaranteed to make you hide behind the sofa.

As a first-year nursing student I was introduced to the concept of the nurse as advocate. My initial distrust of the word was intensified when I looked it up in a dictionary to find that it meant ‘one who pleads on another’s behalf’.

How patronising, I thought. How disempowering of us to bandy that word about. Instead of benefiting the patient, does it not instead serve to divide the healthcare team, I demanded, painting nurses as defenders of the patients and doctors as those who wish only to hone their skills upon their patients?

Perhaps it was the slightly maiden-like tone of the word ‘pleads’, perhaps it was my innate desire to play devil’s advocate, but I argued strenuously, loudly, and no doubt with a certain soporific repetition against the use of the term ‘advocate’ for the majority of my three years at university.

So it’s only right that I should end up having my opinion dramatically reversed as a patient. Because, you see, I had made my original argument in a calm and reasoned manner. I wasn’t in pain and my mind was clear. I couldn’t envisage a time when I wouldn’t be able to argue for myself. But when that
time came I was extremely grateful there was someone to argue for me, someone who spoke on my behalf and prevented an intervention that I did not want.

I can’t remember if it was Mulder or Scully who said darkly: ‘Sometimes you need to go full circle to find the truth’. Whichever one – they were definitely right.

Arabella Sinclair-Penwarden is a staff nurse in Devon

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