Leah Gorham, 43, made headlines in 2021 when she ditched her hospital scrubs for a life on the road driving an 18-wheeler, and two years later, she says she has no regrets. The Canadian licensed vocational nurse ended her 15-year career in healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic after her applications to nursing school kept getting rejected.
“I was just going to regret my career being where it was and not being able to advance was really maddening to me,” Gorham told CNN back in 2021. “So, I just needed to do something else.”
She decided to enroll in a 12-week truck driving program, eventually earning her commercial driver’s license (CDL), which cost around $8,000. Gorham now spends most of her time behind the wheel of her super deluxe 2023 Peterbilt 579 Ultra-Loft with her partner Roland Bereczki. They take turns driving and spend an average of 70 hours a week on the road, going back and forth between the U.S. and Canada.
“Traffic can be stressful at times,” she said in a recent interview with CBC News, but it “sure beats the hectic hospital.”
The job lets her explore parts of the continent that she may otherwise never get to see.
“I love Iowa. We go to a little town called Dubuque — cute little towns that I’m not used to seeing,” Gorham added. “I often have a lot of time to think when I’m driving on the road and the thing about nursing is — I really felt I was making a difference and I struggle to do that with trucking. But I guess I’m driving the economy.”
Even though she’s no longer saving lives in the hospital, Gorham is still performing an essential service. The trucking industry is dealing with a labor shortage of its own. And the problem is only expected to get worse in the years to come. By 2030, the U.S. could be short some 160,000 truck drivers, according to the American Trucking Association.
Meanwhile, the nursing shortage in Canada only seems to be getting worse. “I still talk to my nursing friends,” she said. “I do know they miss me.” When her former colleagues ask if she’ll ever come back, Gorham says, “I’m with you in my dreams.”
Turnover remains high at St. John Regional Hospital in New Brunswick, the facility where she used to work. “They said, ‘You’d know four people here.'” Gorham said. “It just doesn’t seem to be getting any better.”
The story behind her career change caught on with the press with major news outlets running pieces on the “Great Resignation.”
“I think it’s because nurses are needed so much, people are like: Why would they ever leave nursing? Well, I make a lot more money doing this,” Gorham explained, looking back on all the attention she received.
But Gorham said the change wasn’t just about making more money. The stress of working in a hospital and not being able to move forward with her career was starting to take a toll on her mental health. She also loves the thrill of learning a new skill.
“It is not anything like my standard car,” she said of truck driving. “There’s a lot of hazards involved in it. I find a lot of people are unaware how difficult it really is.”
But she isn’t ruling out a return to nursing – if the industry improves.
“I do have time to see [if] maybe I want to go back casually or something like that just to maintain my license because I put my time in. I did really love it,” she said. <sic>