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A health advocate is someone who works with patients to help them navigate the health care system, or someone who provides health education to people such as high school and college students. In either case, there are a number of ways to become a health advocate, ranging from attending certification programs at colleges to simply starting one's own business, relying on experience in the medical community to get the business going.
In the sense of a health care advocate who works with patients, someone can become a health advocate by going to a training program, working for an organization which offers advocacy and completing their certification program, or by turning a career in the medical field into a career in health care advocacy. For example, some health advocates are former nurses who use their experience in the nursing community to provide information and assistance to patients.
In the case of a certification program, several colleges offer advocacy training programs at the bachelor's and master's level. At schools without such programs, students can still opt to take classes which lead to a degree in the health care field, and they may opt to study a field such as social work so that they can learn about ethical issues related to advocacy, and so that they can get field experience with people who need the assistance of an advocate. After graduation, people may want to consider working with an organization which offers advocacy to get work experience, or they can start their own businesses.
One doesn't necessarily need a college degree. People can also choose to work for an organization like a hospital, an insurance company, a disease advocacy group, or a government agency which provides advocacy. In these cases, someone can become a health advocate by completing a training program, and then he or she will be assigned to patients and paid by the organization.
For people with training such as that discussed above, or real life experience in the medical field, it is possible to become a health advocate by starting an advocacy business and working directly with patients. In these cases, experience helps, because it can be used to get a foot in the door at hospitals and clinics. Independent advocates often work with a variety of organizations to establish a referral network, and it helps to have relationships with organizations which help low-income individuals, as these people may need health advocates, but be unable to afford them. By establishing connections with a group which provides assistance to low-income people, a health advocate may be able to access grant funds provided to these organizations, allowing him or her to help patients without needing to bill them directly.
In the case of someone who provides health education and information, a health advocate is often someone who is drawn from the community which he or she works with. For example, a college student might become a health advocate after receiving a short training, to educate students about health issues and deal with minor medical needs so that student health will not be as burdened. People can also receive special training to become health educators, in which case they travel to various communities with information about issues like nutrition, preventing disease, family planning, and so forth.
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