Commuting as a Nurse

I’m writing this post from my hotel room in between overnight shifts watching Untold Stories of the ER.

A lot of people have asked how I like commuting to my new job. A lot of people wonder why I drive so far to work. I thought I’d clear up those questions.

So we live in a really rural area. We have plenty of what we call “critical access hospitals” which are small town community hospitals with Med/surg, OB and ER that can manage most basic medical conditions, surgeries, etc. They stabilize the patient, diagnose and then decide if it is something we can handle or if we need to transfer out. We end up sending a lot of critical patients or traumas to larger hospitals.

In the super rural area I live in, most of the bigger hospitals we send patients to are a minimum of an hour and 15 minutes away. One we usually send to is Lacrosse, Wisconsin, we are about an hour and a half from St. Mary’s in Rochester MN. University of Iowa is about 2 hours away, and those are the major hospitals we transfer patients to, those are the level 1 and 2 trauma centers.

As far as driving to work, if I want “big hospital” experience I need to commute. If I want ICU or Critical care experience, I have to drive a minimum of an hour. So that’s what I chose to do!

Someday I may want to be a flight nurse. Most fight programs require a minimum of three years of ICU experience so where I currently work, about an hour and 20 minute drive, is the closest ICU. There’s another ICU at about an hour and 10 minutes away, but it isn’t as big and it isn’t at a teaching hospital.

It’s super common for people from our area, from the “boonies” to commute to work at Mayo or Lacrosse. Usually they stay in town and work a few shifts in a row. Also remember, I technically only work about 3 days or 12 hour shifts a week so I’m not driving 3 hours a day 5 days a week, just once or twice a week and then I usually stay in between two shifts.

I have a few tips/tricks/advice for those who are considering taking the leap from critical access hospital to gain more experience.

First of all, let me say I wish I would have made the transition a long time ago. The opportunities, the leadership, the environment is phenomenal.

Some people ask if I get paid much more going to a bigger hospital and I would say there isn’t a big difference. The benefits seem less expensive because naturally they have more staff so they get a better group rate.

I have been working on saving money when I do stay in town for a few days, I’ve gotten pretty creative packing my lunches and meals. The microwave in the hotel room is key. I’m all for microwaveable leftovers. It’s easy to just eat out and get delivery every day but that doesn’t save or make much money.

I actually love my commute. It’s my me time and I love listening to audiobooks, podcasts, catching up on calling my siblings, I don’t mind it at all. Even after working an overnight shift, I have yet to get tired on the drive home. When you’re busy all night, the “buzz” keeps you awake even longer – long enough to get home.

How about my family life? Well when I worked closer to home I didn’t see the boys much in between 12 hour shifts anyway so I would say there isn’t much of a difference there. Here’s an example of my work week:

Leave Sunday night at 5:30 pm
Work 7p to 7a
Sleep in town on Monday
Back to work on Monday night at 7p to 7a
Home on Tuesday morning
Usually I just sleep from about 9-12 on Tuesday after night shift, I relieve our babysitter and then me and the boys nap together on Tuesday afternoon.
Home Tuesday night
With my boys on Wednesday
With my boys on Thursday
Nap with the boys Thursday afternoon
Leave for work Thursday night at 5:30 pm
Work 7p to 7a on Thursday night
Home on Friday morning and home for the weekend!

When I work the weekend I have more time home with my kids during the week! I actually probably see my kids more than the average Monday – Friday 9-5 mom.

So that’s my work schedule guys! I’m always open for questions if you are considering taking the plunge!



  1. Elle
    August 7, 2020 / 3:33 pm

    In the past, I’ve known RNs who lived in Modesto CA and commuted into San Francisco for work. There, other RN’s rented out bedrooms for ‘sleepers’. Everybody wins. It’s the only way those RNs could afford to buy, and those commuting in had a great sleeping space.

    It’s wonderful that your Leadership will give you that 2d/1d split to maximize your family time!!!!

    Thank you for serving your community 🙂 (Retired RN).

  2. Mary Etherington
    August 8, 2020 / 12:00 am

    Hey, Kalissa! Could I take you out for breakfast sometime – on one of those days you stay over in Mason City? My treat – it would be fun to visit with you!

  3. Heidi S
    August 8, 2020 / 8:14 am

    My favorite schedule was working a double on Tuesday and Thursday, then I worked single shifts every other weekend. Everybody had to work weekends. I got 40 hours while only working 3 days. I had time with my kids and 4 day weekends every other.

  4. Susan the Farm Quilter
    August 8, 2020 / 6:22 pm

    Well, I am a bit more rural than you!! The hospital in our little town can handle a small stitch job and has delivered one baby in the last 15 years (mom was too fast to drive the hour to a bigger hospital, the nurse was incompetent so the CNA did most everything, including delivery, until the GP from the clinic got there). They used to do surgeries and births there, but haven’t done that in decades. It is mostly used as a “swing bed” for people in the nursing home (same building) or for residents of the town who have been in a bigger hospital and need a bit more care before going home. We are lucky to have the hospital, nursing home and assisted living in a town of 900. I’m so glad you are thrilled with your new job!

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