An inside look at a career as a correctional nurse

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Nursing can be a challenging career choice regardless of the healthcare setting you choose to work in, but there are some environments that pose a greater challenge than others. Correctional nursing is one such career path. This is undeniably one of the more difficult and tricky nursing speciality choices, particularly because the nature of the patients and their circumstances impose extraordinary constraints on the nursing staff. For nurses who are looking for an unconventional career path and are willing to meet those challenges, working in a prison as a correctional nurse can be an immensely satisfying career.

Gap Medics students with their mentor inTanzania.jpg Unique characteristics of correctional nursing 

As a rule, nursing professionals work in hospitals or other healthcare facilities that are exclusively oriented around patient care. However, because of the nature of the inmates in correctional facilities, the priorities are a bit different. Here security is accorded the highest priority and medical care is secondary.

As with any other branch of nursing, the primary role of a correctional nurse is to act as their patient’s advocate. This takes on special importance in the correctional environment, where individuals are powerless to choose their care or their care providers. Correctional nurses often find themselves having to dispense the best care possible while working within considerable restrictions. There are stringent rules regarding the type of medications that can be administered within the confines of the facility and there are also limitations as to the amount of medications that can be given to any inmate. There are further restrictions regarding the number of patients that can be sent outside to a hospital for testing or treatment.

The nature of correctional care

As a correctional nurse, you would be responsible for providing care for inmates with both, acute as well as chronic conditions.

Generally patients with acute conditions arrive as part of the daily “sick call” or in most cases, as a result of an accident or a violent confrontation. In your role as a correctional nurse, you would have to provide screening and triage services, in support of the physicians or nurse practitioners that provide primary care.

Patients with chronic conditions are common in correctional facilities. Many chronically ill patients in these facilities suffer from liver disease, tuberculosis and older injuries that would have resulted from poor lifestyle choices in their lives outside the prison. Nurses exercise more autonomy in dispensing healthcare for inmates who have any chronic conditions as they are generally stable and their treatment options have already been put in place.

What to expect when it comes to patient interactions 

Nurses who work in hospitals or private clinics generally have no way of knowing which of their patients are dangerous criminals. Generally, you would treat everyone as a non-criminal unless you are instructed otherwise.

Correctional nurses on the other hand know full well that every patient they see is a criminal. Just this knowledge can change the dynamics of the workplace tremendously. Depending on the kind of facility, whether it is high or low security, you may find yourself having to do your job with an armed guard either in the room or immediately outside the door at all times.

As a nurse in a correctional facility, one of the things you must be prepared to cope with and remain objective about is the behaviour of the patients. Inmates can be verbally abusive, hostile and manipulative. However, to presume that all inmates are hostile and abusive is not correct. Many experienced correctional nurses have released strong statements to dispel this misconception. According to them, the majority of inmates are grateful for their care and respond well to a respectful, caring and professional attitude from their caregivers.

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