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2022 APNA Award for Distinguished Service

Gail R. Stern, RN, MSN, PMHCNS-BC

Humor is the cornerstone of Gail Stern’s dynamic leadership style. Her ability to connect deeply and cultivate impactful, long-lasting relationships has permeated all aspects of her distinguished career and is key to understanding her great success as a psychiatric-mental health nurse.

For 47 years, Stern’s warmth and exuberance has shone at every level of her extensive PMH nursing career. From her early days as a head nurse in a new psychiatric unit in west Philadelphia, Stern went on to complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and a master’s degree in psychiatric-mental health nursing from the University of Pennsylvania.

Stern worked in a variety of administrative roles throughout her career – as a psychiatric-mental health advanced practice registered nurse (PMH-APRN), as a faculty member, and as a consultant and a legal expert. For the past seventeen years, Stern has been steadfast in advancing the integration of mental health and substance abuse services throughout all healthcare settings.

Currently, she is able to serve these goals as Vice President in the Department of Psychiatry at Lehigh Valley Health Network in Pennsylvania, where she is responsible for a broad continuum of mental health services across multiple network hospitals and community care settings.

Stern has always been deeply devoted to the advancement of PMH nursing. She dove headfirst into a variety of APNA efforts and joined the Board of Directors in 2006 for two terms as Member-at-Large. Colleagues consistently praise Stern’s passionate commitment to APNA and her dedication to promoting a philosophy of caring with emphasis on human connections. Her gift for human connection inspires hope and optimism for the future of PMH nursing broadly, among APNA members at every level of their career.

Stern exclaims, “APNA has been amazing for me – the collaboration, the friendships, it’s like a family. You’ll find that if you invest your time and effort into APNA, it will make you a much more effective PMH nurse, on top of the latest research, and in contact with the top colleagues working in the field.”

In 2017, Stern represented APNA at the White House National Nursing Meeting on the Affordable Care Act and served as Chair of the APNA Recovery Council. In 2018, Stern went further to serve APNA on the national Board of Directors as President-Elect, then APNA President in 2019, and Immediate Past President in 2020.

During her tenure as APNA President, Stern prioritized advancing clear, attainable goals and messaging to reinforce that at the core of PMH nursing is the care of the whole person, with nurses using the therapeutic relationship to partner with individuals along the path to recovery. During Stern’s time on the APNA Board of Directors APNA’s continued responsiveness to needs of all members kept the organization on a solid path for growth. Stern is proud that one of the highlights of her tenure as APNA President was hosting the most well-attended national conference in the organization’s history: 2019 in New Orleans.

“The work I did for APNA gave me as much as I gave it,” Stern says. “Watching the organization grow – from the 1980s to now – and how well it’s run today, has been incredibly rewarding. APNA is always looking at what our members need. It’s been such an honor to be on the Board and serve as a past APNA President.”

In addition to her continued work at Lehigh Valley Health Network, Stern pursues a variety of initiatives to advance PMH nursing and substance use care. She participated in research and innovation focused on recovery-based care via the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and served as a facilitator for the “APNA Recovery to Practice” curriculum.

Stern also continues work to champion suicide prevention efforts as a participant in the Zero Suicide Academy – a collaboration of organizations putting in place evidence-based care for a person experiencing suicidal ideation and working to ensure any healthcare encounter includes assessment for depression and suicidal ideation.

“We don’t do it alone. One of the beauties of PMH nursing is that we are always learning from one other, every day, through every moment. We learn from the patients and share those milestones together. The most important thing to me is the way we help our patients and colleagues feel connected,” says Stern.