Husband, Father, Son, Brother, Friend, Adventurer, Nomadic Nurse: Russ Mortland

May 29, 2018
Sarah Gray, RN

Russ Mortland is a nomadic nurse. Almost 2 years ago he and his wife were inspired to pursue their dreams of full-time travel. Within 6-months of making that decision, they welcomed their 2nd daughter into the world, sold 90% of their possessions, bought an RV and hit the road. They’ve towed their home over 20,000 miles from Maine to Florida to Arizona to Baja Mexico and a hundred places in between. Thanks to travel nursing this lifestyle is possible!

nomad nurse russ mortland and family taking photo over nature view

What influenced your decision to become a nurse?

My involvement in athletics had me set on becoming a physical therapist. When I started researching the field more and learned about the new requirements for licensure I realized I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My girlfriend (now wife) had made the decision to go to a small nursing school in northern Maine. I was really into her and an opportunity to play soccer at the collegiate level opened up so I followed her there and on a whim chose nursing. I really didn’t realize what a great decision I had made until my junior year when we started clinicals in the acute hospital setting. I got a small taste of what was possible and I met some great nurses who told me about the profession and the opportunities that were available and the rest is history.

What do you most enjoy about nursing?

This is a tough one! If we’re talking strictly about the job I would have to say the people are the most enjoyable part of nursing. Every week I meet patients and families that have done incredible things and their stories humanize them in a way that allows me to provide care as a friend rather than just a professional. I’ve met veterans who have jumped out of burning planes, doctors who have come from poverty, nurses who have surmounted odds that make my life seem like a cakewalk, drug addicts, prostitutes, “famous” people, etc. Everyone has such a unique story, I love to hear them out and see them for who they are or used to be or hope to one day be.

The most difficult part of being a nurse?

“Trying to deliver compassionate care in a world of business.”

What do you think is the most difficult part of being a nurse?

Trying to deliver compassionate care in a world of business. I think almost every nurse who has been at the bedside for at least one shift would agree that our system is broken. Just this week my patient was denied by his insurance company to go to the same nursing home his wife was at. She’s dying and he can’t be there…they have been married for 50+ years. I hate feeling helpless when I know that the right thing to do is “impossible.”

What has driven your philosophy of an early retirement?

My early retirement philosophy is simple. Earn more, live cheaply, change your perspective on what matters. I was comfortable working my 3 shifts a week, watching Netflix at night, going out to eat on the weekends and taking a yearly vacation to an instagram worthy destination. But then something clicked and I felt this embarrassment about how lame and safe my life was. I could keep living that way and retire at 67 OR I could save 60-75% of my income over the next 13 years and become financially independent allowing myself the time to do what I WANT to do not what my bills dictate I do.

Russ mortland with family nomadic nurse on top of mountain top with nature view behind

What has been the motivator for your incredibly adventurous lifestyle? When did you make the decision to become a nomad?

Two years ago I was up past midnight trapped in a YouTube sidebar spiral (night shift problems) when I came across the greatest midnight motivation I have ever experienced. It was a “Tiny House” interview with Mali Mish about how/why they lived in an Airstream with children. In that moment everything clicked. My hesitancy to pursue travel nursing with children in tow was mostly related to the uncertainties of housing and the constant uprooting. An RV solved that problem!

RV parked in desert in front of small mount nomadic nurse

Fast forward 3 months and my wife and I are draining our life savings and taking out a significant personal loan at 8.44% (gah!) and wiring that money to a man we’ve never met in California who claims to have an Airstream that we’ve never seen. Even our precious 2-week old baby Arlowe knew it was a questionable plan. I’m a calculated kind of guy but sometimes you just have to go for it. I didn’t want to sit around telling myself that good was good enough. Being content with comfort will never produce the best version of yourself.

Today we are proud to be debt-free! Our home is 100% paid off and it feels amazing. We decided to live as nomads because the world is too big to not explore and life is too short to not spend it living. Add in the fact that I earn double what I was making as a staff nurse in South Carolina and I get to see the world?! No brainer! As an ICU nurse I’ve taken care of countless folks who wish they had traveled more and spent more time with their loved ones when they were healthy. Don’t wait for “someday” make it happen!

rv parked between palm trees on grassy field nomadic nurse

Do you think it’s important to identify with other aspects of life in addition to “nurse” or “nursing?

I love my job and I love my profession but I don’t find my identity in nursing. I rarely talk about my work outside of the hospital walls and not just because of HIPPA. I just think that the more I keep my nursing shoes at work the better nurse I can be. I want the people I take care of to see me as more than just an RN as badly as they want to be seen as more than just a patient. The more I invest in myself as an individual outside of work the more relatable and genuine I can be at work. What I’m trying to say is that by sharing 100% of my life with the people under my care the vibe goes from transaction to relationship. Not everyone can relate to being a nurse but they can relate to being a husband, father, mother, friend, employee, etc. Build that trust and rapport with them and your impact will increase.

What are a couple other roles that you identify with?

Husband, father, son, brother, friend, adventurer.

russ mortland nomadic nurse and children on boardwalk

What do you wish the world knew about nursing?

That it’s perfectly normal for us to go from laughing with one patient to crying with your neighbor next door. We’re not calloused to your feelings but to give of ourselves every shift is difficult and draining. We have to have a macabre sense of humor to not get burnt out. We are a dozen different roles every shift, please be patient!

What do you think is in store for the future of nursing? What about for your nursing career?

I don’t know where healthcare is headed but I know that nurses must stick together. We have to advocate for ourselves and for our patients. We need to band together, don’t accept an expanding role if it means same pay and less work for others. I think the future of nursing is bright and full of wonderful opportunities for us as a whole but only if we can dictate the terms.

So don’t be pushed around. Take a hold of your finances and skills and know your worth. New travel nurses, PLEASE stop accepting low pay packages! You’re killing us! You are the asset, you hold the leverage!

I see myself transitioning from bedside to business. I think I can make a bigger impact in nursing via the world of policy and business than at the bedside. That being said, I’ll keep working the ICU until the right opportunity presents itself.

russ mortland nurse with child on back in desert

  • Healthiest habit for work days: Eat breakfast, pack your own lunch, take pee breaks.
  • My work mornings usually start with…Cuddles, oatmeal, and tunes on the way to work.
  • Go-to meal that I pack for work: Leftovers
  • Favorite thing to do on a day-off: Explore the area, play with my kids, have fun!
  • Favorite app: Do it for the #gram
  • Clogs or sneakers? Sneakers, just snagged a pair of retro Reebok Pumps for work!
  • If I wasn’t a nurse, I would probably be..Business man or farmer.
  • Compression stockings, compression socks, or neither?Neither but I probably should wear something.
  • Puke, poop, sputum, IV starts in babies, we’ve all got our aversion, what’s yours? Disimpaction…I will pay you handsomely to do this for me.
  • Go-to choice of caffeine? Coffee! Actually trying to start my own coffee business geared towards nurses and other healthcare professionals.

Follow along Russ and his incredibly beautiful family’s adventures on @mobile_mainahs