Kelli Dunham, RN





Drexel University


Kelli Dunham is a nurse, author and award-winning stand-up comic. More or less in that order, depending on the day.

Kelli writes and speaks extensively about medical self advocacy and caregiving. Her workshop, "When A Casserole Is Not Enough: Building Teams of Caregivers," is a popular addition to conferences nationwide because it combines practical advice, humor and personal experience.

Kelli is also the author of four books of health-related non-fiction including How to Survive and Maybe Even Love Nursing School (FA Davis, 2008, 3rd ed), How to Survive and Maybe Even Love Your Life as a Nurse (FA Davis, 2005) The Boy's Body Book: Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up YOU (Applesauce Press, 2013, 2nd ed) and the Girl's Body Book: Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up YOU (Applesauce Press, 2013, 2nd ed).

Because of my personal experience caregiving, I know it can tear you apart: physically, emotionally spiritually. I also know what a privilege caregiving is, even, or perhaps especially, when it doesn't feel like it.

— Kelli Dunham, RN


In addition to her experience as a professional caregiver, Kelli has been involved in caregiving on a personal level for many years in a number of different situations including helping to coordinate care of her mom post- multiple surgeries with her seven (count em, seven) siblings.

Kelli was the primary caregiver for her partner Heather MacAllister who died of Ovarian cancer in 2007 and was a part of the organization of a greater care team Heather called The Lovetroopers. This was the first that Kelli learned of team caregiving and she got a close-up view of what works and what doesn't in these situations.

In 2010, in what seemed like a statistical impossibility, Kelli's second partner, Cheryl, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma and passed away less than six months after her diagnosis, from complications of chemotherapy. Cheryl was in the hospital for three months fighting for life and Kelli was surrounded by a family of friends who made it possible for Kelli to literally sleep on the radiator at New York's Beth Israel Medical Center to take care of Cheryl.

Kelli's most recent book, Freak of Nurture, a collection of humorous stories, includes the account of her journey with both Heather and Cheryl. Comedian Kate Clinton described the book as, "laugh out loud hilarious storytelling and bighearted caregiving."

Because of her professional and personal experience, Kelli has become a consultant (on an informal and formal basis) with family caregivers trying to build empowered care teams. Kelli's passion is in creating caregiving situations that are beautiful even in their difficulty, where everyone involved feels supported and appreciated.

Kelli's experience with caregiving became even more personal this past winter, when an infected knee replacement landed her in the hospital, close to sepsis, and her friends rallied around to take care of her during the hospitalization and after her return home. Kelli realized that being able to accept help was as much a part of caregiving as providing the help, and that caregivers need training, information and support just as caregivers do.


Kelli achieved her BSN from Drexel University where she was a Rubert Memorial Trust Scholar and was the recipient of the Dean's Award for Clinical Excellence. She is currently working towards her MSN. Kelli's clinical experience includes three years as a primary care nurse at a nurse managed health center in Philadelphia, and almost a decade as a Nurse Family Partnership Nurse Home Visitor, working with first time new moms in their homes.

Verywell Health Editorial Process

Verywell Health is an award-winning online resource for reliable, understandable, and up-to-date health information on the medical topics that matter most to you. We take a human approach to health and wellness content and reach more than 300 million readers annually.

Our editorial team includes writers, editors, and fact checkers who make sure our information is clear, accurate, and useful so you can make confident choices about your health.

Our writers are notable voices in their respective disciplines, from physicians to medical journalists to patients/patient advocates. These individuals are specifically selected for their extensive knowledge and real-world experience, as well as their ability to communicate complex information in a clear, helpful, and unbiased way.

Our team of qualified and experienced fact checkers provide a critical step in our commitment to content integrity. Fact checkers rigorously review articles for accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We use only the most current and reputable primary references, including peer-reviewed medical journals, government organizations, academic institutions, and advocacy associations.

Learn More