Called to the last frontier (www.ucollege.edu)

Snow-capped peaks and miles of pristine Alaskan coastline might seem like the vacation of a lifetime. But to Roddy ’11 and Stephanie Eldenburg ’11 Bollinger, it’s home—a place to enjoy the natural beauty of creation and fulfill their calling to provide healthcare to residents of the state’s most prominent city.

As a charge nurse, Roddy oversees the overall flow and maintenance in the emergency department at Providence Medical Center, the largest hospital in Alaska. Stephanie works as a labor and delivery nurse, serving the native population at Alaska Native
Medical Center.

Serving underserved populations

For Stephanie, her Union graduate parents proved to be role models—her father as a physician and her mother as a nurse—who later inspired her as she worked with native communities from across Alaska. “My job is very exciting and I love the native women,” said Stephanie, who admires their toughness and their culture. “Native women come from all over Alaska to have babies here.”

She remembered a woman in labor who personified the spirit she has come to admire in her patients. “The triage nurse told her it was time to have the baby,” Stephanie recalled. “She giggled and said, ‘I told you this baby would come fast.’ It’s unusual for a woman in labor to have that kind of an attitude.”

Many come to Alaska Native Medical Center because they have high-risk pregnancies or because they are from villages that do not have the medical facilities to take care of them. The hospital and its staff seek to be culturally sensitive to every patient. “We do a lot more natural deliveries,” said Stephanie. “We as a hospital work hard to try and give each patient the delivery they want.”

Stephanie has found that working at a large hospital in a state made up primarily of underserved rural areas has shown her many medical cases she would not see very often in other hospitals.

And she quickly discovered that some Alaskans have to travel hundreds of miles to get adequate health care—like having to make the trip from Lincoln to Chicago to visit a hospital.

“Some patients don’t even have electricity or running water,” she said. “[But] hospitals have programs to improve their living situation.” And that’s what she’s most excited about. The Alaska Native Medical Center partners with rural health facilities to support a spectrum of healthcare services, including acute injury, primary care, and a housing facility called Quyana House for out-of-town patients and their families. The hospital even provides a Traditional Healing Clinic, which offers traditional native approaches to wellness and culturally sensitive support.

“This experience has changed how I view health care,” she said. “I am more appreciative for what I have available medically. And I feel this job has given me great preparation for future jobs.”

Originally Roddy wanted to be a youth pastor, but what appealed most to him about a nursing career was the opportunity to connect with a lot of people. Both of Roddy’s parents worked at Union, and even though he hadn’t intended to stay in Lincoln throughout college, he felt called to the nursing program. Much like a youth pastor, he felt he could be a positive influence as a nurse. Plus “it’s an active occupation,” he said, “which is what I need.” The constant connection with people, the variation in tasks, the steady busyness—nursing is the career that encompasses everything for him.

And yet there were many moments of doubt—especially in college. “Nursing is really hard,” they explained. Constantly faced with difficult tests, they often wondered if they were on the right path. But after completing each course, they felt accomplished and mustered the courage to continue.

Now, they admit nursing school gave them the foundation they needed to be successful. In the real world, they discovered nursing jobs are very fast-paced and have a high learning curve. With help from their families, a good education and trust in God, they were able to make it through. “It’s worked out,” they said. “And both of us are still learning every day.”

Finding a home

The couple originally met while working at Camp Heritage, a youth camp in
Missouri, and they started dating in high school. Stephanie chose to attend Union’s nursing program because of the program’s reputation for excellent board exam results and amazing teachers. For Roddy, it was Union’s one-on-one teaching style that appealed most to him, something a larger program wouldn’t be able to offer.

During college, they were very involved in student life and extracurricular activities. Both enjoyed business club and student body events, dodgeball tournaments and banquets. They felt it was important to be involved with as many activities as they could before they started in the nursing program. They knew that once they were in, it would be harder to make friends in other majors.

After graduation, Roddy and Stephanie worked for a year as nurses in Missouri. While that experience was valuable, the couple craved adventure. Roddy had spent some time doing commercial fishing in Bristol Bay during his senior year in high school and freshman year in college. During that time, he fell in love with Alaska. So that’s where they decided to move.

Fortunately, both were able to find jobs in Anchorage. Roddy signed a two-year contract with Providence Medical Center and Stephanie began work at the Alaska Native Medical Center. Three years later, they’re still going strong. They love the outdoor life in Anchorage and consider their home state a paradise.

Groundwork for success

The family atmosphere at Union had a huge impact on Roddy and Stephanie’s collegiate and professional lives, especially the mentorship of their nursing professors. In college, they felt comfortable talking with their professors outside of class whenever they had questions. They were also invited to their professors’ homes.

Long after classes ended, faculty friendships have continued. Shortly after moving to Alaska, Roddy called nursing professor Nicole Orian to ask for her advice. At the time, he was still a new nurse and felt overwhelmed by the sudden change to a 50-bed emergency room. Maybe he was in over his head? Orian counseled him to take it one day at a time, and she reaffirmed that he had made it so far and he would continue to excel. Roddy credits this advice as a pivotal moment in his career.

Another professor, Kelly Boyd, impacted them with her personal approach. “Every time we return to campus, Kelly is always the first to run up and ask how we’re doing,” Stephanie explained. Like Orian, Boyd still cares about what her former students are doing and values her friendship with them enough to stay in contact.

Today, Roddy and Stephanie are working toward completing their master’s degrees through Marysville University with the goal of someday becoming nurse practitioners. Beyond job preparation, the couple believes their experience at Union was worth every dollar during a critical time in their lives. Union’s support system of like-minded people, Friday night worships and church services laid the groundwork for what they decided to do with their lives after they graduated. “I don’t know how you get the same support anywhere else,” they explained. “Union shaped who we are.”

(Originally published at https://www.ucollege.edu/news/2016/01/04/called-last-frontier)

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