Correctional Travel Nursing

corrections nursing

Are you a travel nurse looking for a change in your specialty?  Nursing is a career that offers many choices for specializing.  Nursing, unlike other careers, offers an opportunity for lateral as well as an upward movement. Over my 30 plus years of nursing, I have tried many specialties.  Some I worked full-time others were part-time or perdiem positions.  There were the ones I tried and found to not be a good fit for me and left in good standing.  When a nurse is not happy in their work it affects the team and can affect patient care.  Best to move on to something that fulfills your goals as a nurse.

Today lets look at Correctional Nursing.  I started work as a perdiem nurse at a correctional facility but became a full-time position for a few years.  When I started a nursing career I never imagined I would spend time behind bars in jails or prisons. I had worked as an Operating Room nurse, Occupational Health nurse, and Nurse Educator but was intrigued with this chance to work in a county jail.

When I decided to write this post I found Travel Correctional Nurses are in demand. So what is it like working in a jail or prison?

How safe is it?

One of the most frequently asked questions is about safety.  Considering that all of the patients are criminals you would wonder about security.  My experience is that I felt safer there than if I were in the ER with a criminal.  The officers in the units provide security for the medical staff.  You are always aware of your surroundings and are never alone with a violent offender.

The security process inside a facility provides for the safety of the healthcare workers.  As long as you are alert and vigilant when on the unit the potential for harm by an inmate is minimal.  Always make sure the guard on the unit is aware of your presence.


Inmates appreciate the medical staff

You will find that many of the inmates have little to no health care.  They are assessed by a nurse once inside the facility to see what their needs may be.  Generally, they are seen by the facility physician within the first week of incarceration.  Inmates are treated as needed for health conditions and medication is provided as prescribed.

Nursing care in a correctional facility is appreciated.  Nurses provide patient-focused care and for most inmates, this is much-needed attention.  There is a difference in this type of interaction and inmates feel this difference and show respect for the care provider.

Medical conditions

The first thing you should realize is that many of these inmates may be homeless.  Many have had no medical care and are on drugs or alcohol.  You may see skin conditions that are unlike any you have seen before.

Inmates are creative and find ways to feed their addiction.  One such way is to take the fruit they get and ferment it to make alcohol known as hooch.  It is not uncommon to see an inmate with food poisoning from such practices.

GI and Respiratory infections are common. In some parts of the country, there is an increase in patients with active TB and HIV/Aides.  Most conditions will be discovered on intake into the facility.  Make sure to use your assessment skills to pick up on those conditions that may not have been discovered.

Poor dental health is also prevalent in this population.  You may need to brush up on your dental assessment training.  Every inmate is entitled to health and dental care while incarcerated.  Many of the patients you see will be repeat offenders giving you the opportunity to provide education for maintaining better health.

Collaboration with custody staff

The medical staff is a support staff within the facility.  You will work closely with the correctional officers in the unit.  While there is concern over inmate health and wellness it is not the main focus of the corrections staff.  You may find it difficult to advance patient care and therapy.

I was frustrated with alcoholics and drug addicts who were incarcerated for a period and released back into the environment to continue the addiction.  I felt like we were never getting ahead of the problem.  You have to remember they are incarcerated to do time for the crime and not to be treated for the addiction.

Take care of yourself

As with any nursing specialty, you will have stress.  In the correctional facility, there is an added stress of being locked down in a unit with known criminals.  Remember you may be dealing with an inmate with a psychological illness as well as physical illness.  You may feel the stress of always being aware of your surroundings in a locked environment.

The important thing is to remember they are human beings too and are in need of your compassion.  Self-care in this environment is important to keep from suffering Compassion Fatigue due to stress. Inmates come with a boatload of baggage most of which you will not be able to unpack. Most of all know your limits so you are able to provide quality care to all of your patients.

Is Correctional Nursing right for you?

Just like all other specialties Correctional nursing may not be right for everyone. I found it to be rewarding and interesting work.  If you are looking for something new and challenging, consider Correctional Nursing.

This is a nursing specialty where you can truly make a difference in the health and well being of your patient.  Like any other patient, an inmate may be cranky, and difficult.   Just know in the end they appreciate what you do for them.

For more information on Correctional Nursing check out this site.

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Cheryl Roby, RN

Cheryl J. Roby is a Registered Nurse and retired US Army Reserve Nurse Major. She has more than 30 years of nursing experience and 26 years of military experience in the Army Nurse Corp. During her nursing career, she has traveled as part of her military experience visiting many of the 50 states and to South Korea. She was trained as an Army Medic during the Vietnam era and later as an OR tec. She went on to become a Licensed Practical Nurse and then completed her nursing training as a Registered Nurse. She was then commissioned as an officer in the Army Reserves. She appreciated the challenge of working in various specialties and expanding her clinical and professional skill sets. Her time in the Army Reserves and California National Guard gave her the opportunity to travel to most of the 50 states and work in other medical facilities. During her career, she had the opportunity to work in several specialties to include, OR, Occupational Health, Hospice, Sexual Assault Team, Forensic/ Correctional Nurse, Nurse Case Manager for developmental disabilities, Parish Nursing as well as a Nurse Entrepreneur.

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