Being an advocate for yourself

TACT host Jen Seyderhelm standing with Jodie Kirkness in the UCFM studio

In this episode, Jen Seyderhelm is joined by TACT collaborator Jodie Kirkness to talk about how you can be your own best health advocate. Jodie is a journalist at Women’s Health Matters and a promoter of patient self-advocacy. At age 17, Jodie was diagnosed with a high-grade malignant Phyllodes tumour that resulted in five weeks of intensive radiation and a radical mastectomy. She chose not to tell people what she was going through, including many of her family and friends. Now at 24, Jodie is a passionate health advocate for both herself and others.

Many people often feel intimidated, confused and overwhelmed when visiting their doctor and navigating the healthcare system. Jen and Jodie discuss how to combat these issues by advocating for yourself and knowing your rights as a patient. They share tips for seeking appropriate health care, accessing health information, resolving health issues and identifying available treatment options. They discuss how to become an active participant in your healthcare journey by creating an open dialogue with your doctor and giving feedback to ensure you are receiving quality care. Knowing how to advocate for yourself protects your rights and ensures that you are heard.

Find more information about your healthcare rights, a medical treatment checklist, and some useful resources below.

Episode producer: Sarah Grieb

Being an advocate for yourself

TACT is made possible thanks to a YWCA and Beyond Bank grant, and with the support of Women’s Health Matters, the voice for women’s health and wellbeing in the ACT; and Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT. The series is produced in partnership with The Owl at the University of Canberra.

You can share your thoughts, ideas and feedback by email ( or via the TACT podcast Facebook page.

Our theme song is Satisfied Minds by the fabulous Canberra band Miroji.

If anything we’ve talked about has raised concerns for you, there are many free support services you can reach out to for help, including:

13 11 14
Online chat

(1800 737 732)
Online chat

(13 92 76)
Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander support service

Listen on UCFM 87.8 and podcast services

Healthcare rights

Being an advocate for yourself means feeling or being able to voice your concerns in seeking appropriate health care, access health information, resolve health issues or identify available treatment options. 

Advocacy can protect your rights, ensure you are heard and prevent discrimination against you.

So, what are your healthcare rights?

In Australia, young people from the age of 16 years have the same right to consent to health care treatment as adults. Healthcare rights ensure all patients and carers in Australia receive safe, high-quality care in partnership with healthcare providers.

Australians’ healthcare rights are set out in the Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights. These rights apply to any healthcare you receive, anywhere in Australia, including in public hospitals, private hospitals, general practice and in the community.

The seven basic healthcare rights are listed below.

  1. Access: You have a right to healthcare services and treatment that meet your needs.
  2. Safety: You have a right to receive safe and high-quality healthcare that meets national standards, and to be cared for in an environment that is safe and makes you feel safe.
  3. Respect: You have a right to be treated as an individual, and with dignity and respect. Your culture, identity, beliefs and choices must be recognised and respected.
  4. Partnership: You have a right to ask questions and be involved in open and honest communication. You can make decisions with your healthcare provider, to the extent that you choose and are able to your actions, and you may include the people that you want in that planning and decision-making.
  5. Information: You have a right to receive clear information about your condition and health, as well as the possible benefits and risks of different tests and treatments, so you can give your informed consent. You can and should receive information about services, waiting times and costs, and be given assistance, when you need it, to help you understand and use that health information.

    You also have the right to access your health information. You must be told if something has gone wrong during your healthcare, including how it happened, how it may affect you and what is being done to make your care safe.
  6. Privacy: You have a right to have your personal privacy respected — information about you and your health must be kept secure and confidential.
  7. Give feedback: You have a right to provide feedback or make a complaint without it affecting the way that you are treated. Your concerns should be addressed in a transparent and timely way, and you have the right to share your experience and to participate in the improvement of the quality of care and health services.

Exercising your right to communication means it is more likely you will understand and receive the best possible care and health outcome. Therefore, knowing and understanding your healthcare rights means you can help the health system to help you.

Some other key information: If you are an Australian citizen, you are eligible to apply for your own Medicare card separate from your parents from age 16 years old. This means you are entitled to free or subsidised healthcare in hospital and from general practitioners and specialists. 

You are entitled to free treatment and accommodation as a public patient in a public hospital and to subsidised medicines through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, or PBS.

Young people can also access a range of free or low-cost health services specifically for under 25 years olds, including services for mental health and dental health, community health services and support services if you have a disability. There are also free health services available for young asylum seekers and refugees if you do not have a Medicare card

Healthcare rights make sure everyone from different cultures and ways of life is treated with respect and dignity in the healthcare system.

Medical treatment checklist

Here’s a checklist if you are seeking Medical Treatment on your own –

  1. If you have a Medicare card, find a Doctor who ‘bulk bills’ and book an appointment.

    Bulk billing means there is no out-of-pocket fee for your medical service from health professional because they will bill Medicare directly and accepts the Medicare benefit as full payment for their service.

2. Ring your doctor to:

  • confirm you will be attending without your parents (if you are under 18);
  • confirm you want the appointment kept private; and
  • ask about payment options.

3. Attend the appointment.

4. Make sure you communicate openly with your doctor and listen to their advice.

5. Depending on the reason why you see your doctor it might be a good idea to take some time after the appointment to think about your treatment options before you make any commitments.

If you feel your rights have been denied or that you received poor care, you can make a complaint. It is a good idea to speak directly about your concerns to the health professional/service first before lodging a formal complaint with the health complaints organisation in your state or territory.

Useful resources