A Portrait of Perseverance: A Danish PhD Student’s Years-Long Journey to United States Citizenship

July 17, 2019

2019 has been a momentous year for multi-tasking University of Arizona College of Nursing PhD student Hanne Dolan. As if the responsibilities that come with being a clinical nursing instructor, a doctoral student, a business owner, a wife and a mother aren’t enough, Dolan was also completing the process of becoming a United States citizen. Though she has lived and worked in the U.S. for almost 15 years and is raising two daughters with the benefit of dual Danish/U.S. citizenship, Dolan’s journey concluded at a Phoenix courthouse on May 17 during her official oath ceremony.

“Sixty-three of us from 25 different countries became citizens that day,” Dolan says. “It was very emotional and, in the end, we received our naturalization certificates.” It was the high point of a years-long quest that had more than its share of bumps along the way.

"Sixty-three of us from 25 different countries became citizens that day. It was very emotional and, in the end, we received our naturalization certificates.” ~ Hanne Dolan, Arizona Nursing PhD Student

A native of Denmark, Dolan’s first taste of stateside life came when she joined a touring musical group after high school graduation in 1999. She met and married her husband and the pair returned to Denmark, where college tuition is free to citizens, to enable Dolan to earn her bachelor’s in nursing.

Becoming a nurse had been a passion since a school career day when representatives from a nursing college gave a presentation. Dolan was captivated by the meaningful simplicity of providing care to those who need it most. “One of the teachers compared a hospital to a church,” she remembers. “Anybody is welcome. You come there at the most difficult and the most joyous periods of your life. A nurse’s only responsibility is to take care of people during those times.”

When Dolan and her family returned to the U.S. in 2005, they settled in Lake Havasu, Ariz., where her husband’s parents lived. Passing the NCLEX was easy. Obtaining permanent residency and taking the next step toward citizenship proved to be a challenge years in the making. A bureaucratic snafu with her immigration packet led to a three-year period where Dolan was compelled to renew her driver’s license and update her passport and visa every six months. When she finally obtained her green card, Dolan had a second daughter, a career in the local hospital and was hard at work on her master’s.

Thanks to a wrinkle in Danish law that required Danes who obtain citizenship in another country to renounce their birth citizenship, Dolan was ambivalent about seeking her U.S. paperwork. “I thought, there’s no way that I will ever give up my Danish citizenship,” she says. “I didn’t leave my country because I didn’t like it. I’m just here. I’m still Danish and I will continue to be that.”

But everything changed when Denmark loosened its restrictions in 2015. “Now it’s just a matter of figuring out the best time,” she remembers thinking. In March 2018, Dolan finally moved forward in a bid for U.S. citizenship. With the help of an immigration lawyer, she submitted her paperwork, completed a raft of biometrics such as fingerprints and photographs, and aced her final interview. “You get a booklet with 100 questions about American history and government,” she says. “You’re instructed to learn all 100 questions, from which 10 will be selected for your interview. So of course, being a PhD student, I knew every single question by heart, back-and-forth.”

With her U.S. credentials finally secured, Dolan felt a sense of belonging and security that had evaded her for years. “I don’t need an alien number anymore, no travel problems,” she says. “I always felt weird giving the pledge of allegiance. It didn’t feel right doing it when I wasn’t a citizen, but now I do it with pride. I belong here and I also belong in Denmark. Just like my girls, I now have dual citizenship.”

With that hurdle finally cleared, Dolan is focusing on her studies and research, and teaching clinicals to nursing students at Mojave Community College in Lake Havasu. She’s grateful for the flexibility of Arizona Nursing’s online program, which – along with its welcoming, responsive faculty – was her primary reason for choosing the program. With roughly two years to go before she earns her PhD, Dolan is completing qualitative research on fall prevention in hospitals from a patient’s perspective, and teaching clinicals one day a week. “Teaching nursing to students is right up my alley, because I’m very passionate about basic nursing care,” she says. “And it still gives me a chance to help with patient care."

As for the future, Dolan takes a wait-and-see approach. With her youngest daughter in school for six more years, she is happy for now with life in Lake Havasu. “Once I graduate, I can’t move anywhere, so I will have to teach online,” she says. “If I can do some research and publish, great, but after that who knows where I’ll be. A lot of it also depends on where my kids eventually end up.”