A Compassionate Nurse Practitioner Working to Improve Health Equity for Neurodiverse Communities

November 10, 2023

Naterra Walker, NP; headshot

Nursing is a profession where compassion, dedication, and a commitment to lifelong learning are paramount. Naterra Walker, a Nurse Practitioner (NP), embodies these qualities and has made a meaningful difference in the field of healthcare.

Naterra's path to becoming a Nurse Practitioner began when she entered the healthcare field at age 19. As she worked alongside nurses, she quickly recognized that their role was critical to patient care. The collaborative nature of the profession, the critical thinking involved, and the advocacy for patients resonated with her. This revelation led her to change her academic focus from pre-med to pre-nursing, setting her on a trajectory to become a nurse.

She obtained her Bachelor of Science in Nursing a few years later, embarking on a career in pediatric nursing. A few years later, she pursued her Master of Science in Nursing, ultimately becoming a Nurse Practitioner. This transition allowed her to engage in more independent practice and decision-making, aligning with her passion for providing patient-centered care. Naterra also recognized the pressing need for healthcare providers, making her journey to become an NP even more purposeful.

For Naterra, the most meaningful aspect of her career as a Nurse Practitioner stems from a life-changing experience during a medical mission trip to Panama. The trip took place before she completed her NP education and lasted for over a month. It had a profound impact on her perspective and approach to healthcare.

“During my time in Panama, I developed a deep sense of compassion for individuals who differed from me in terms of appearance, language, and life experiences,” she said. “The trip allowed me to truly appreciate the beauty of diversity as I was warmly welcomed by people from diverse backgrounds. The gratitude expressed by those I served touched my heart and transformed me into a more empathetic and compassionate provider.” This experience reinforced her commitment to providing equitable and compassionate care to all.

In addition to her clinical work, Naterra is actively involved in research focused on improving the care of children with autism. She collaborates with GW Nursing’s Professor Ashley Darcy-Mahoney, Ph.D., NNP, FAAN, to investigate the cultural and racial factors that affect autism diagnosis, care delays, and disparities in management. Their goal is to gain insights that will lead to improved health equity for neurodiverse communities.

“My day job is the reason I'm obtaining my Ph.D. Seeing patients four days a week, has given me a host of research questions and ideas... I’m hoping that I can produce some research that improves how my families’ access care, or how we interact with them.”

“My day job is the reason I’m obtaining my Ph.D.,” she stated. “Seeing patients four days a week, has given me a host of research questions and ideas. I currently work predominantly with families that have children with developmental delays and autism. I often see the struggles that these families face, and it can be discouraging when I don’t have answers for them. I’m hoping that I can produce some research that improves how my families’ access care, or how we interact with them.”

To aspiring nurses who hope to become Nurse Practitioners one day, Naterra offers valuable advice. She emphasizes the importance of persistence throughout the challenging journey to become an NP. Being a lifelong learner, seeking mentors, and maintaining a steadfast focus on one's goals are key to success. The path to becoming an NP may demand dedication, passion, and hard work, but Naterra's journey is a testament to the fact that it is achievable with unwavering commitment.

Naterra Walker's story is one of dedication, compassion, and a commitment to making a difference in healthcare. Her journey from a young individual entering the healthcare field to a compassionate Nurse Practitioner and researcher in autism care is an inspiration to all those who aspire to have a meaningful impact on the world.