You can’t complain about your commute after meeting Claire Geldhof. The dual-degree student with the University of Colorado College of Nursing Doctor of Nursing Practice and Colorado School of Public Health, takes courses online from her home in Alaska, sometimes jumping on seaplanes, and boats; walking when the roads end to take care of patients living in the bush.
Three of the six communities that Geldhof serves.
Based in Juneau, she serves the communities of Cordova, Yakutat, Gustavus, Pelican, and Tenakee Springs, an archipelago of communities in the Southeast region of Alaska. Depending on the weather, Geldhof visits these communities several times each year, providing childhood vaccines, testing, and treating diseases like tuberculosis and STIs, engaging with community programs that are focused on substance abuse and harm-reduction strategies, also offering school-based screenings, and health education.
“These communities have a different pace, a different quality of life and limited to things like fuel, food and transportation. All of that plays into a unique way of living for Alaskans,” said Claire Geldhof, RN. “There’s a hardiness to Alaskans that is pretty incredible. When you sit down and meet families who live in Pelican with no roads, cars and grocery stores living on subsistence, wit and self-care, you realize it’s amazing to be there.”
Geldhof was born and raised in the breathtaking beauty of Juneau, the capital of Alaska that boasts some 30,000 residents. When she was six years old, she wanted to be a SWAT negotiator. But she also wanted to be a doctor and an artist. Her art teacher recommended she go into nursing because she could create art anytime. Geldhof took the advice and was happy to find her other passions within the profession.
SWAT Negotiator, Artist, Teacher, And Nurse All Rolled Into One
“I really feel like I got all of that because I’m like a SWAT negotiator dealing with different kinds of people sometimes, a teacher instructing people about how to stay healthy and prevent sickness, and an artist by using imagery and concept mapping to find solutions for people. I think all of those things I wished for as a kid have been manifested in this career path,” said Geldhof.
She earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from the University of Vermont. While she liked medicine, Geldhof wasn’t really connecting with the concepts of hospital nursing. That all changed in her senior year when she had a chance to visit Dhaka, Bangladesh with a professor. There, she found a passion for public health nursing and focus with prevention, health promotion and harm reduction.
The trip was a guiding inspiration for her return to Alaska, after commencement in 2011, where she joined the section of Alaska Public Health Nursing, and began studying with the dual Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and a Master of Public Health (MPH) degrees in 2021. The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus offered a unique opportunity to study this dual degree track in both the CU College of Nursing and the Colorado School of Public Health.
DNP/MPH Dual Degree Program Allowed Her to Stay in Alaska While Serving Her Community
“This program was really appealing because it allowed me to stay where I am, which is deeply important to me, along with continuing to give back to the communities that surround me and raised me, so this program was a really phenomenal match because I can stay here in Alaska,” said Geldhof, now in her second year of the program.
“It’s pretty incredible that I can continue working in remote villages and communities while having this parallel with my schooling program.”
Her dream is to continue working with itinerant communities with public health nursing services. Her email signature reads ‘It is our privilege and honor to live, work and practice on Lingít Aaní — unceded traditional lands of the T'aaku Kwáan and A'akw Kwáan Tlingit peoples.’
“In Alaska, land recognition is important. To honor and recognize the people who live here, and who are from here. This is their land,” said Geldhof. “So, my email signature honors the Tlingit people whose land I live and work on. This is their land.”
Now 11 years into her nursing career, she believes she was supposed to follow this path.
Pursuing Her Destiny
“I'm the first in my family to enter healthcare. And I've come to realize that I have always been destined for nursing. Part of that is an empathetic nature that is at my heart and core. But it’s also a desire to meet people where they're at. It's a beautiful profession where you're instilled with trust to connect with so many individuals.”
She advises other nurses to consider public health nursing as a rewarding career.
“I think it’s rewarding for those that crave an artistic language of nursing that is invested in working with individuals and communities to address health disparities, initiatives and strategies.”
Fun fact: Alaska is one-fifth the size of the lower 48 states yet has less than 1/100th of paved roads.