Course List


Introduction to Patient Advocacy

(Law 940–Online; Offered only as part of the Consumer Health Advocacy Certificate, or as a standalone course for Professional (non-credit) students)

This course provides a comprehensive overview of the core skills employed in patient advocacy. Emphasis is placed on access and application of information, critical thinking and reflective practice, creative and collaborative problem-solving, critical questioning, and communication. Specific course topics include:

  • Introduction to the Patient Advocacy Field
  • Healthcare Systems Overview
  • Independent Learning
  • Patient Perspectives
  • Communication 1 – Listening and Empathy
  • Communication 2 – Empowerment and Capacity Building
  • Caring Carefully (Cultural Competency and Health Literacy)
  • Ethics and Professionalism
  • End of Life
  • Framing Decisions
  • Creative Problem-solving and Collaboration



Applied Advocacy Experience: Patient-Centered Care and Health Advocacy Clinical

(Law, Medical Sciences and Nursing 768–on campus; combination (on campus & online); or online; fall or spring start for all students who have taken the Intro to Patient Advocacy prerequisite; alternative summer start for qualifying graduate students with no Introduction to Patient Advocacy prerequisite)

Students advocate for patients with life-threatening and serious illnesses as they navigate the health care system.

Students help individuals and families:

  • Evaluate treatment options
  • Access quality medical care
  • Converse with family members and co-workers about their illness
  • Appeal insurance denials
  • Assess eligibility for public and private benefits
  • Address financial and employment related concerns.

Learners are introduced to the following substantive topics:

  • Medical Debt
  • Prescription Drug Coverage
  • Employment Issues
  • Insurance Pricing & Payments
  • Public and Private Health Insurance
  • Public and Private Disability Benefits
  • Clinical Trials and Researching Medical Information

This course is offered as part of our certificate program, or as part of a field placement, clerkship, fellowship, or special course enrollment for UW graduate students outside of our certificate program.

More Information:

Our Curriculum

Students who complete our advocacy experience learn how consumers with serious and life-threatening health conditions experience the health care system. They also acquire applied skills and substantive knowledge for health care advocacy, including health care financing and delivery, as well as how to work collaboratively across disciplines.

Student patient advocates help clients and families negotiate insurance disputes, apply for financial assistance/charity care, and access existing and new support networks. They assist in finding new or experimental treatments, participate in patient care teams, protect employment rights, secure private and public disability benefits and secure access to appropriate medical care.

Weekly case rounds offer a venue for students to discuss client cases and creatively and collaboratively problem- solve with colleagues. Practicing professionals frequent the Center to discuss potential legal, financial, ethical and medical issues associated with public and private disability appeals, employment law, medical debt management, medical treatment research, end-of-life issues, and advocating for system change.

Logistics and Prerequisites

The clinical experience requires an application and is consent of instructor.

Students may take 3-7 credits per semester (minimum of 2 in continuing semesters). In fall and spring semesters, each credit equals 4 service hours per week and in the summer semester each credit equals 5 service hours per week. Students are strongly encouraged to make a commitment to enroll for two sequential semesters (continuing with at least 2 credits).

The following additional prerequisites/requirements apply:

  • Fall: Introduction to Patient Advocacy course is prerequisite.
  • Spring: Introduction to Patient Advocacy course is prerequisite.
  • Summer: Introduction to Patient Advocacy course is prerequisite or alternatively, graduate students can participate in a 50 hour orientation during the first 2 weeks of the clinical.


There are many paths for UW graduate students to study at the Center. Please visit the  UW Student Opportunities page for information about the specific application process we’ve created for many disciplines.

This course counts towards completion of a Consumer Health Advocacy Certificate. If you are interested in pursing a certificate , complete the certificate application instead by visiting the certificate application page. Admitted certificate students are accepted into the Applied Advocacy Experience as part of their admission to the certificate program. For more information contact us at



From Patient to Policy: Models of System Level Advocacy

(Law 940–offered spring semester; blending learning (on campus & online); or online)

This seminar is designed to build on the patient advocacy clinical experience by (1) deepening understanding of the systemic causes of problems consumers experience with health and health care in the U.S. and remedial opportunities; (2) examining key elements of, and challenges/opportunities in, the advocacy field; (3) strengthening identity and capacity as an advocate – with particular emphasis on system-level strategies. The course: introduces theories of change, themes, roles, and strategies of system level advocacy; highlights the opportunities and limitations of patients in the policy domain, explores the role of advocacy groups, and critically examines advocacy in the legislative, regulatory, community, and organizational arenas.



Health Advocacy Externship

(Law 854–on campus; combination (on campus & online); or online; offered to certificate students only)

This externship opportunity is available to certificate students wishing to apply their advocacy skills in a community-based non-profit, government entity, or health care organization. Students work with an Advocacy Faculty mentor to identify a site, on-site supervisor, and prepare a learning contract to guide their experience. The Applied Advocacy Experience is a prerequisite.



Directed Research–Project or Paper

(Law 990: Directed Research–on campus; combination (on campus & online); or online)

For Directed Research students work with a faculty mentor on a self-directed project or paper from conception to completion. Past projects have included an analysis of cost-savings as a result of advocacy interventions, a video examining advocacy throughout the stages of cancer care, creation of an information packet for a spinal cord injury support group, and a needs assessment for a community non-profit contemplating advocacy training.



Public Health Law Online Practice Workshop

This Practice Workshop offered online is designed to complement students’ experience in Health and Public Health Externships and related placements in the Government and Legislative Clinic. Accessible from anywhere, it will enable law students to participate in externships far and near, taking advantage of placements at federal and state agencies, and non-governmental agencies, outside of the Madison area. The course is designed around six broad practice topic areas: (1) Non-legal skills essential to lawyering, (2) Partnering with other professionals, (3) Organizational fit: Finding the right workplace, (4) Using Data/Evidence to craft legal solutions, (5) Strategic communication and advocacy, and (6) Lawyering under uncertainty. Students will explore leadership skills and how to receive feedback from supervisors, learn about lawyers’ roles in addressing ethical concerns, be able to contrast their experiences with students at different sites, and gain practical tools to utilize in their current externships and future practice. Course activities include participation in discussion forums, self-assessments regarding skills, attributes, and strengths, weekly written reflections on the relationship between course material and their externship experience, and interviews with key stakeholders in externship sites.

This course is being piloted in the Spring semester 2015 and is currently open to law students concurrently enrolled in a Health or Public Health Law Externship or related placement in the Government and Legislative Clinic. Students are strongly recommended to have taken Public Health Law or Health Law (concurrent enrollment okay). For more information contact Professor Davis at



Independent Study

If you are interested in pursuing an independent study related to health advocacy, please contact us at for more information.



Advocating for Populations: Partnering to Improve Community Health

(Law 940 – online course; offered for medical, occupational and physical therapy, and genetic counseling students: 2 Credits)

This four week, interactive, e-learning seminar is designed to equip future health care providers with tools to improve community health in three ways: (1) by deepening your exploration of determinants of health and the systemic causes of problems consumers experience with health and health care in the U.S.; (2) by introducing you to a range of strategies for creating productive change with and on behalf of groups of patients; and (3) by strengthening your ability to see the connections between the experiences of individual patients and the organizational, political, social, and economic structures that influence the experiences of all patients. We will introduce theories of change and strategies relevant to system level advocacy; highlight opportunities for and limitations faced by patients in the policy domain; explore the role of advocacy groups; and critically examine advocacy opportunities for health care providers in the legislative, regulatory, community, and organizational arenas. Further, students will enhance their ability to form key partnerships and work effectively with a broad range of other actors central to improving health and health systems. The online course utilizes discussion forums, collaborative documents, and multimedia sources. Assignments will include reflective pieces, and short papers. Community forum participation will factor significantly into the final grade.



Advocating for Patients: Getting the Right Care at the Right Time

(Law 940 – online course; offered for medical, occupational and physical therapy, and genetic counseling students: 2 Credits)

This four week, interactive, e-learning seminar is designed to provide an overview of the complexities of the U.S. Health Care System, as experienced by patients and health care providers caring for them. It will also build your capacity for advocacy in clinical settings by exploring strategies for addressing barriers and inequities, and for harnessing system resources and building on community assets. Study of public and private insurance, medical billing, employment issues, and disability will provide future health care providers with a comprehensive view of the myriad of challenges patients face as they navigate illness and health care – and concrete tools to address these issues that often stymie health improvement for individuals and populations. Each topical module will conclude with guided reflection where students envision prevention and response strategies, resources, the provider’s role, and the roles of other key stakeholders. The online course utilizes discussion forums, collaborative documents, and multimedia sources. Assignments will include reflective pieces, and short papers. Community forum participation will factor significantly into the final grade.

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