Health practitioner is ever on the job - at work, at home, in the community

Posted: Friday, November 02, 2001

Justine Emerson is a mother of three, a nurse practitioner and now a colonel in the Alaska Army National Guard. One thing she doesn't seem to do often, though, is slow down.

"I don't think I relax very much," Emerson conceded.

In addition to taking care of her children - daughters Mackenzie, 15, and Brynna, 13, whom she home-schools, and son Brook, 9 - Emerson works part time as a family nurse practitioner at Valley Medical Care and at the Juneau Recovery Hospital.

She volunteers at the Glory Hole, leads a Bible study group with her husband Adrian Slater at the Juneau Christian Center and coordinates the local activities of Operation Christmas Child, which sends presents to needy children around the world. To relax, she goes for a jog or lifts weights - when she finds the time to relax.

In addition to the civilian activities, Emerson has had a busy career with the armed forces that began when she joined the Women's Army Corps as a junior in college in 1973. In August of this year, she became the third woman in state history to be promoted to colonel in the Alaska Army Guard.

Emerson joined the armed forces because they helped pay for graduate school and allowed her to see the world. She stayed with the armed forces for the opportunities.

"What's great about the Guard is that you get to meet people from all over the world," Emerson said. She said she loves the job, but it does require a lot of time.

"It's supposed to be one weekend a month, but it's really a lot more than that," she said.

Because she is now in charge of making sure all Guard members are medically ready to serve, she often visits Anchorage, the base of Alaska National Guard operations.

"I really enjoy the medical field," Emerson said. "I love medicine because there's always more to learn."

Working as a nurse practitioner allows Emerson to combine a challenging career with a passion for helping others. But no matter how talented a person is, she still can't add hours to the day or days to the week. How does she do it?

For Emerson, the secret is in her religion. In 1983, she spent a summer in the Aleutian Islands, where she met a Christian couple who changed her life.

"They were just so warm, and they really lived it," said Emerson, recalling the couple's faith. She realized that Christianity "had to be more than going to church. It's in your heart."

Soon after the summer in the Aleutians, she worked for a year and a half as a missionary in Nepal, where she met her husband. The couple lived in England for seven months, then returned to Juneau to raise a family in 1986.

Emerson, Slater and their two daughters returned to Nepal in 1990 for three more years of missionary work. Brook, the couple's youngest child, was adopted in Nepal in 1992 when he was 7 weeks old.

The missionary work gave the family a shared experience. Helping others is a priority for the entire family, including Slater, a civil engineer who works part time so he can devote himself to his family and service activities.

Every member of the family works to make sure Operation Christmas Child is a success, and the children are involved in many community activities on their own.

As for Emerson, she's happy keeping herself busy as mom, nurse, colonel and volunteer.

"For me, there's no other way I could live my life," she said.

Christine Schmid can be reached at

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