Stephen A. Bernhardt

Stephen A. Bernhardt




Much of my work has been in drug development contexts inside various pharmaceutical and biologics companies. I’ve worked with drug development teams to formulate clear messages, make strong arguments, interpret and present data, and coordinate large filing dossiers for new drugs. I bring skills in document design, applied rhetoric, team communication, and co-location and meeting technologies. I’ve also worked in chemistry, manufacturing, and controls to document work processes and to create documentation approaches for corrective and preventive actions following various incidents. My various publications focus on document development processes in pharma environments, especially using writing as a team process to guide research and development.

Earlier in my career, I worked with hospitals across New Mexico to develop worker literacies and communication skills in English and Spanish. I worked with state and federal support through workplace literacy demonstration projects.

Currently, I work closely with the Dean of our College of Heath Sciences at UD to increase levels of funded research, encourage innovative teaching and training, and create new models of healthcare delivery. We are building a new health sciences campus on a shuttered Daimler Chrysler assembly plant, a site that will include a nurse managed healthcare center and a physical therapy clinic. We are building alliances with Dupont Nemours Children’s Hospital, Jefferson Medical School, and Christiana Healthcare System to develop a more responsive, efficient, and equitable health deliver system based on inter-professional teams.

I work on innovative, cross-disciplinary teaching projects: institutional mentoring, standardized patient simulation, integrated math/physics/technology/communication, and communication/business/ethics in life sciences. I typically use problem-based learning.


Drug development, clinical trial reporting, technical and scientific communication, healthcare delivery, workplace training


My work is about connections, making things happen on interdisciplinary teams, building partnerships, changing institutions and the ways they offer workers opportunities.

I tend to be focused on method over theory, working on projects or building programs rather than building theory. I develop methods in work contexts and apply methods to create more efficient work processes related to writing and communication. I am a participant/action researcher, developing and applying methods of organizational change.


  • How do you explain/define what you do to medical personnel and/or other stakeholders in the research process or to the public?

I help teams use writing to development best practices in research and development environments. I am not a contract writer—I would be too expensive for that—but I have skills in applied rhetoric that can help organizations perform at a high level by leveraging their organizational and indidivual knowledge through documentation processes. I help teams develop their strongest, most consistent and supportable arguments based on the available data.

  • What research challenges have you experienced and how did you solve them?  Choose to focus on one or two specific examples that can help the group develop strategies for overcoming these types of challenges.

There is always tension in work settings with research ethics in academic settings. Business is proprietary, while academia is open sourced. Research, especially of an action-oriented sort, has to be reconfigured to be of perceived value to industry and to respect bounds of confidentiality and business advantage.  We are able to enter industry settings because we focus on needs assessment, data gathering, document evaluation, and other activities that have an immediate business relevance.

I also link research to education, both in industry, where I have done extensive worker training, but also in university settings. Through several NSF IGERT grants, we are training advanced students (phd) in biosciences in communication, ethics, and business practices so they are prepared to think beyond the science and to become knowledgeable about how to work at the boundary of science, education, and business. We form an alliance with a bio-research firm and put teams of students in a real problem-solving situation. While we do this, we are reflective on how to solve problems, form teams, use writing, think ethically, and consider business needs (venture funding, competition, the wider drug development landscape, balance sheets, decision making).

  • What are some of the most pressing questions in health and healthcare that health communication/medical rhetoric scholars can help answer?

How do we alleviate healthcare disparities? How do we make evidence-based decisions? How do we control cost? How do we create a system that is non-physician centric, and that makes best uses of the talents of a range of healthcare professionals? How do we reason ethically about who should get what care? What is the obligation of the first world economies to creating global healthcare equity?

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