Nursing Major Carves Her Own Path

Kristen Gerber ’09 is filling a niche in Minnesota with Navigate Care Consulting, a team of licensed school nurses she leads who consult with 50-plus school districts across Minnesota. Along with starting her own business, Gerber is a major in the Minnesota National Guard and is currently the commander of the Medical Detachment Unit.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

June 14, 2021 | 9 a.m.

Major Kristen Gerber ’09

Major Kristen Gerber ’09 is the commander of the Minnesota Army National Guard’s Medical Detachment Unit, and she also leads a team of licensed nurses at Navigate Care Consulting, which provides services to 50-plus school districts in Minnesota.

Kristen Gerber ’09 started her career like many nursing majors, working in public health, then at Children’s Minnesota Hospital, and at Gillette Children’s Hospital. But after realizing she wanted something different, Gerber carved her own path. Today, Gerber runs Navigate Care Consulting, a team of 12 licensed nurses who provide services to 50-plus school districts across Minnesota. “It’s very fulfilling,” she says. And she also led a team at the heart of Minnesota’s National Guard efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gerber grew up in the Iron Range and then in Superior, Wisconsin. Both her parents went to Bethel and enjoyed strong experiences, so Bethel was her number one choice. Though her father served in the National Guard, Gerber didn’t initially consider it—and admits being intimidated by the thought. But then at Bethel, she decided to join the Guard to help pay for her schooling. After graduating with majors in nursing and Spanish, Gerber started her career but eventually grew burned out with the hours and working with children in a hospital as she started her own family. When she started exploring options outside a hospital setting, she followed a desire to be her own boss, and she soon realized there was a niche and that there weren’t enough licensed school nurses for all the schools in Minnesota. In 2014, Gerber started Navigate Care Consulting, a team of licensed school nurses who consult with 50-plus districts across Minnesota. “I knew there was a need, but I was surprised with how quickly it grew,” she says.

Gerber and her team work with administrators and whoever is leading a school’s health initiatives to create a framework for policy. The team remains a resource to the school throughout the school year as things come up. “We help train, and oversee, and work through anything health-related at the school,” she says. They also host various training sessions on things like CPR and OSHA, first aid, and whatever else schools need. In school health, Gerber says you learn or face something new every day, and they’ve had to adapt and add specialty pieces during COVID-19. “It looks different at every school,” she says. Taryn Buckner, a contracted nurse on the Navigate Care Consulting team, describes Gerber as a laidback and calm person who led with quiet authority during the uncertainty of COVID-19.

“Working with Kristen is wonderful. She is a very skilled team leader who is not afraid to get down and dirty with her contractors or any of the schools we provide services to. Kristen allows her contractors to perform their roles according to their own strengths and does not micromanage but is very ready to jump in and provide help.”

— Taryn Buckner

Though Gerber was at first intimidated being in the Guard, she enlisted as a combat medic and learned a lot. During her first six-year commitment, she made connections and decided to continue her service. “I learned a ton as a combat medic that I used in nursing school,” she says. Now a major in the Guard, she remains a commissioned nurse in the Minnesota Medical Detachment, a group of about 100 doctors, nurses, dentists, physician assistants, techs, and more. They work often on large-scale items with the state surgeon, addressing things like the state’s medical readiness to large-scale health things where medical support is needed.

Gerber started a two-year commander post of the Medical Detachment Unit in March 2020—just as COVID-19 was taking hold in Minnesota. “Everything kind of exploded,” she says. Her unit has played a huge role during the pandemic. They were called up to State Active Duty, first helping with testing at nursing homes, then they assisted during the civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd, and then they continued responding to COVID-19—and even worked to staff nursing homes during shortages from illness last November. “We went out to the nursing homes and jumped in and took care of people and did our best,” she says. “I was really proud of those guys and girls just for all they learned and all they were able to do.”

Gerber’s faith has been very important to her while navigating the hardships of State Active Duty over the last year. Though she grew up in the church as her father worked as a pastor, Gerber says Bethel helped her learn how to merge her faith into her everyday life. She learned how to incorporate it during the day, how to pray, and how to ask for help. That faith has been important as she’s led two teams during uncertain times. Often with their Guard work, they’ve been “building the plane while you’re flying it,” she admits. But her faith has helped her learn to accept that she doesn’t need to have all the answers, and she strives to be open to feedback and improving as she does what’s best for her teams.

When she’s not leading her team of nurses and her Guard unit, Gerber spends much of her time with her husband, Bryan, her two young children, and three step-children. The last year in the military taught her that along with her service, it takes a family effort. While it’s great when someone tells her “thank you for your service,” she encourages people to then say the same thing to that person’s family and children for their sacrifice. “It really, truly is a group effort,” she says. “And they’re not thanked enough.”


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