Experiences of Rural Nurses who Commute to Larger Communities


  • Laurie Jo Johansen Southwest Minnesota State University
  • Tracy A Evanson University of North Dakota
  • Jody L Ralph University of Windsor
  • Cheryl Hunter University of North Dakota
  • Gary Hart University of North Dakota




Nurses, Rural Nurses Commuting, Employment, Job


Background: Healthcare disparities for rural U.S. populations occur in part due to lack of healthcare providers.  Increasing numbers of registered nurses (RNs) commuting away from rural communities for employment contributes to the rural population’s challenges accessing healthcare.  It is largely assumed in the literature that wages are the driving force behind rural nurses’ commuting decisions.  However, the actual experiences of RNs living in rural communities who commute to larger communities for employment is absent in the extant literature. 

Purpose: This descriptive, phenomenological study explored the phenomenon of commuting away among RNs living in rural communities who commuted to larger communities for employment. 

Methods: Participants included currently licensed RNs, residing in rural communities with a critical access hospital, that had a population of less than 2,500, who commuted for employment in larger communities.  Purposeful sampling with snowballing led to 16 RNs from two Midwestern states, providing rich variations in personal and professional experiences.  Data were collected via semi-structured interviews. 

Findings: The core meaning, or essence, of the phenomenon of commuting away was found to be “Commuting to achieve personal and professional goals while being a nurse in a rural community.”  Multifaceted reasons surfaced for RNs to commute for employment.  Most noteworthy reasons for employment decisions included opportunities for specialized areas of nursing not available in rural healthcare settings, along with advancement opportunities.  Additionally, all RNs in the study were found to appreciate feeling valued as a nurse by members of their rural communities. 

Conclusion: The multi-faceted reasons for commuting away indicated that “one size fits all” plans for recruitment and retention efforts will not meet the needs of rural nurses, and neither will simply increasing rural nurse wages.  Study results are relevant to policy development, nursing practice, nursing education, and future development, recruitment, and retention efforts of nurses serving rural populations.    

  Nurses, rural nurses commuting, employment, job

DOI:  http://dx.doi.org/10.14574/ojrnhc.v18i2.540  

Author Biographies

Laurie Jo Johansen, Southwest Minnesota State University

Professor and Director of Nursing, Department of Nursing 


Tracy A Evanson, University of North Dakota

Professor and Director of PhD Program, College of Nursing and Professional Disciplines

Jody L Ralph, University of Windsor

 PhD, RN
Associate Professor, Faculty of Nursing. 


Cheryl Hunter, University of North Dakota

Associate Professor, College of Education and Human Development

Gary Hart, University of North Dakota

Professor, School of Medicine and Health Sciences & Director, Center for Rural Health