DNP Student Profile: Bridget Gehrz

January 21, 2020

Bridget Gehrz

Learning to heal

No cure exists for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). No medicine or treatment can comprehensively vanquish the painfully persistent condition. 

“But you can learn to live with it,” says Bridget Gehrz, a Doctor of Nursing Practice student at the School of Nursing who hopes to help military families manage the effects of PTSD and thrive.

Through the DNP program’s Integrative Health and Healing specialty, Gehrz is learning a holistic approach to promoting health and wellness while preventing and managing disease. And, as the widow of a former U.S. Navy corpsman who died by suicide, assisting veterans and their families is her priority.

“As I've experienced this grief journey and suicide loss, that has just opened my eyes to a whole bunch of different things and different ways of healing,” says the mother of three.

“As I've experienced this grief journey and suicide loss, that has just opened my eyes to a whole bunch of different things and different ways of healing.”

In June, Gehrz earned a spot in the Pat Tillman Foundation’s 2019 class of Tillman Scholars, a prestigious honor for active duty service members, veterans and military spouses that comes with financial support, professional development and an expansive network.

After reading about the scholars program and previous winners, Gehrz nearly didn’t even apply.

“It was so intimidating,” says Gehrz, who grew up in Starbuck, Minnesota, a city of roughly 1,300 on the western side of the state. “I still see myself as this teeny tiny little small town girl, and this, to me, is just a huge network that I have never had access to before. And so I hope it will provide me with some mentorship opportunities.”

Supporting families

Gehrz has worked in intensive care units, burn centers, cardiovascular floors and the emergency room over the course of a career that’s included stints in Boston and North Carolina. She had always planned to return to school for an advanced degree, but marriage, a move back to Minnesota, motherhood and her husband’s reacclimation to civilian life shelved those aspirations.

Michael Gehrz medically retired in 2008, having sustained traumatic brain injuries while serving in Iraq. He contended with chronic migraines and PTSD and was less than a year away from getting his degree from Metro State University in St. Paul when he died in October 2014.

Rather than focusing explicitly on suicide prevention in her work, Bridget Gehrz wants to help veterans manage their PTSD symptoms and to promote holistically healthy lifestyles among military families.

“I am more drawn at this point to the families, to the other wives, husbands or partners, and to the kids,” she says. “As I've helped my kids through this and I've met other kids on this journey, there are so many amazing things, and they really are super resilient. Giving them these skills, whether there's trauma or not, is important to me.”

Holistic health

The Doctor of Nursing Practice program’s Integrative Health and Healing specialty, the first of its kind in the United States and one of 12 specialty tracks in the DNP program, teaches personalized care that draws on evidence-based therapies and empowers patients as partners.

The three- or four-year program includes coursework in traditional nursing topics like physiology and pharmacology, as well as topics such as botanical medicines, wellbeing and resiliency, meditation, and healing imagery. That holistic nature was a large part of the appeal for Gehrz when she first heard an advertisement for the program on Minnesota Public Radio during a drive in 2016.

The benefits have extended beyond her professional pursuits; courses like Food Matters and Reiki Healing have influenced her daily life. Her 6-year-old son, Aksel, regularly asks her to practice Reiki, an alternative Japanese energy therapy, on him.

“It's been a lot about self-discovery and self-growth, and realizing, I think, how much I needed this to learn these skills for me,” she says.

Gehrz says she’s frequently asked how she balances raising three kids—ages 5, 6 and 7—with school. Her answer? Schoolwork is a joy, not a burden, and it fuels her to keep going.

“I try to bring my whole self to everything that I do,” she says, “and despite all of the challenges in my life right now, I still take a positive outlook to it and I believe that we can do good, and I can do good.”