NEW BRUNSWICK, Canada - Leah Gorham made a career switch like no other when she quit her nursing job to become a truck driver.
The 42-year-old left her post at Saint John Regional Hospital in New Brunswick in October 2021. She had worked there since February 2006. She now works for GTL Transportation, Inc. based out of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Gorham said a series of events led her to leave the medical community behind, including being rejected from a university that would’ve allowed her to further her nursing education.
"In August of 2021, I was assaulted by a patient and decided to change careers shortly after that," Gorham told FOX Television Stations. "Staff shortages existed ever since I started working at the hospital. I believe the staffing
shortages were a major cause of the assault."
"That evening, us nurses had many patients short-staffed and were so busy with our own assignments it was not communicated to me that this patient had a change in condition and was becoming aggressive and confused," she continued.
Gorham said the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated hospitals, leaving nurses stretched even thinner.
"Staffing shortages had always existed where I worked for my entire career and the pandemic made those conditions more unbearable, unsafe and caused low morale amongst staff," she added. "I needed job satisfaction, general happiness, safety."
Leah Gorham quit her job as a nurse to become a truck driver. (Credit: Leah Gorham)
So why a career change to truck driving?
Gorham said she and her boyfriend, who’s is an independent truck driver, always had an interest in the job. She said her boyfriend persuaded her to join him on the road and it didn’t take much to convince her.
"It didn’t take me long to decide. I jumped at the chance and signed up for the 12-week course," she said. "I signed up for the course. I loved every minute of it and loved the challenge of driving a big rig."
And so far, Gorham said she’s not looking back, officially starting her job as a truck driver on Jan. 1.
"I am enjoying the open road and I’m enjoying the time spent with my boyfriend and exploring," she explained.
Her routes even have taken her to parts of the United States.
"Before starting my job as a long-haul trucker, I had not been in the United States for 20 years," she said. "I am amazed by the U.S., the ever-changing scenery, less snow (usually), the amount of trucks on the road, the cities, the population, well everything."
Meanwhile, hospitals across the country are struggling to cope with burnout among doctors, nurses and other workers, already buffeted by a crush of patients from the ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases caused by the omicron variant.
Gov. Kate Brown is deploying Oregon National Guard members to help at hospitals that she says are under extreme pressure. Other states have enacted similar measures.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 hospitalizations are starting to trend downward after a huge spike. The 7-day average stands just about 19,000 compared to more than 21,500 earlier this month.
However, some states are still seeing a record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations. Arkansas reported on Saturday its biggest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic began in 2020. The state Department of Health said COVID-19 hospitalizations increased by one to 1,659. It’s the fifth day in a row the state has set a new record for hospitalizations.
Despite her leap of faith, Gorham doesn’t want to see a mass exodus of hospital staff.
"I want the work conditions to improve for nurses and support staff," Gorham added. "I hope they don’t lose the love…for the job like I did, we need them. Nurses deserve to be safe."
But she hasn’t completely closed the door on nursing.
"I see myself driving trucks into retirement and being a nurse casually," she said. "Recently my boyfriend and I have discussed moving to the U.S.A. perhaps in the future."
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.