Mona M. Shattell, PhD, RN, FAAN

As host of “Health on the Highway”, her exclusive Trucker Territory podcast, Dr. Mona Shattell addresses a topic rarely discussed in trucking circles— psychological health and wellbeing. Currently the department chair of Community, Systems and Mental Health Nursing at Rush University, Mona earned her PhD in Nursing from the University of Tennessee, and her Masters and undergrad degree from Syracuse. She’s authored countless articles and op-eds about trucker health in major publications such as The New York Times and The Atlantic. Mona is an active member of several professional organizations and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing. An avid traveler, she lives in Chicago, where you’ll often find her biking around the city on the weekends.

Q&A with Mona

Q: What inspires and motivates you to tirelessly advocate for improving the quality of life of truckers?
A: Everything in my surroundings — my computer, water bottle, lamp, desk — everything comes to me via a truck. And I don’t think people think about that. People take it for granted. I try not to. People see a truck as the big rig in their way when they’re trying to get home from work. And that’s not good.

Q: Who is a trucker and what does it mean to be one?
A: It means to do a hard job that takes you away from family and friends. A job you love, or do because you might not have other opportunities. But you’re also part of something that’s important. That’s bigger than you.

Q: Can you share a brief story of a particular trucker’s struggle that has stuck with you?
A: There was a trucker in one of my studies. During our interview he talked about being out on the road and unable to get home to see his mother before she died. It was really sad. There are lots of stories like that.

Q: You’ve done extensive research on the mental health risks facing truckers. Are there any psychological health upsides of driving a truck?
A: No, not really. I mean, it’s a tough job. But there’s an attitude of “It’s not easy, and we do it. We’re good at it. It’s a job that has to be done.” So there’s a lot of pride. And I think that’s pretty amazing.

Q: You’ve interviewed hundreds of truckers. What one thing surprised you most?
A: The rules of when you could drive and when you couldn’t. I never thought about when their time was up and they had to stop driving, wherever they were, even if they weren’t tired. Driving when you’re sleepy and stopping when you’re awake. The whole rhythm of driving a truck. It’s nothing you can plan. Even where you can park. Timing it with your hours of service, and finding a safe spot to pull over isn’t easy.

Q: Best stretch of road in America?
A: Well, I loved riding my motorcycle between Key West and Miami. I used to live in Key West. And I had a Honda Shadow 650, I think it was. That was fun.

Q: Old school maps or GPS?
A: You know, I loved maps. And I’m a good map reader. And I always wanted to be the navigator and the driver. But now I just do GPS because it’s so much easier. It’s hard to even find maps any more.

Q: What song do you always crank up when it comes on the radio?
A: “Bohemian Rhapsody.” That, and “Paradise By The Dashboard Light.”

Q: What does family mean to truckers?
A: There’s a sort of family in comrodery. Like when they see another trucker whose left sleeve is more dyed out from seeing the sun than the right sleeve. Family at home is important too. Being away from home is hard. But when you re-enter the family? It’s not always easy. They’ve lived with you being away, doing things a certain way.

Q: What makes you optimistic about the future of trucker psychological health?
A: More people are writing about it and studying it. There’s hope not only in mental health in general, but in truckers’ work environments. Truck cabs are being built better. The seats are better. So there’s hopefully less orthopedic or muscular skeletal problems. My hope is for people to see not just a truck, but a human inside, just doing their job. It’s a really hard job. And we should appreciate them.