Advanced Practice Provider Spotlight: Neonatal clinical nurse specialist explores how diversity and language services improve patient care

[2:12 PM] McVitty, Vanessa stephens-1200x800.png Caption: Heather Stephens, a neonatal clinical nurse specialist at Milton S. Hershey Medical Center Alt Text: Portrait of lady wearing suit jacket over a patterned shirt, smiling. The portrait is overlaid on an image of a Nittany Lion statue.Heather Stephens, a neonatal clinical nurse specialist at Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Advanced practice providers (APPs) play an integral role in meeting the needs of Penn State Health’s increasingly diverse patient populations. With their advanced training and credentials, these professionals expand access to high-quality care, build trust with patients and are a valuable aspect of patients’ overall experience.

April 23, 2024Penn State Health News

Heather Stephens, a neonatal clinical nurse specialist at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, takes pride in being part of a team that provides the highest level of clinical care to mothers and their babies. But one of the biggest challenges she and her fellow APPs face is the need for more diversity in their ranks to serve the increasingly diverse patient population.

Patients often feel more satisfied and trust health care providers who share their cultural or ethnic backgrounds and understand their cultural nuances.

“The majority of our neonatal patients are Caucasian, African American and Spanish, with a steady increase in the Nepalese population in recent years,” Stephens said. “However, most of our APPs are women and Caucasian, and there is limited diversity of other cultures and genders among APPs in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), both here at Penn State Health and at NICUs across the nation.”

Breaking down language barriers  

One of the most pressing challenges in caring for diverse patients is breaking down language barriers. Stephens said. Penn State Health has taken remarkable steps to improve communication with patients in their own languages and in ways that are respectful of cultural practices.

Penn State Health offers interpreter services by phone and video through LanguageLine, a global interpretation company, to non-English-speaking families. It also provides in-person interpreters by appointment. While translation services are essential, Stephens said it’s also important to understand the nuances of different dialects so care teams can communicate with patients and share patient education effectively. For example, different regions of Nepal have their own unique dialects.

Stephens and her team work closely with colleagues in social work to offer patients and families the resources they need after discharge and to support parents’ wishes in medical decisions.

“Being able to print discharge summaries and instructions in the patient’s language would help immensely,” Stephens said. She hopes the Pennsylvania Department of Health will ultimately provide patient education materials in more diverse languages.

Becoming a certified clinical nurse specialist 

Clinical nurse specialists must first earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing and work as a registered nurse before pursuing a master’s or doctoral-level degree in nursing. They must complete hundreds of hours of clinical experience before taking a certification examination.

Their patient responsibilities include:

  • Conducting physical exams
  • Consulting on patient conditions
  • Contributing to and supporting evidence-based bedside clinical care
  • Providing guidance on disease prevention and healthy living

The advance practice providers at Penn State Health include certified registered nurse practitioners, physician assistants, certified registered nurse anesthetists, certified nurse midwives and clinical nurse specialists. Rigorously trained and credentialed, APPs work collaboratively with other health care providers to offer patients the highest level of care possible.

See the previous APP Spotlight feature on nurse midwives.


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