The Challenges and Opportunities of Corrections Nursing
Correctional nursing is a rewarding career that gives nurses the opportunity to work with some of the most underserved patients. Incarcerated individuals are more likely to be undereducated and have limited access to healthcare services prior to incarceration. These characteristics put them at risk for multiple health disparities that may benefit from nursing care.
Opportunities in Correctional Nursing
Despite the challenges of correctional nursing, it is one of the most in-demand nursing careers. It is also a great opportunity for nurses who are looking for more autonomy or professional growth.
The opportunities in correctional nursing include:
- The ability to focus on education and advocacy.
- The prospect of professional autonomy.
- The chance to collaborate on an interdisciplinary team.
Focus on Education and Advocacy
Working with a population with so many unmet needs has its challenges, but also has great rewards. Compassion is the foundation of any nursing practice, but this is especially true in correctional nursing. Every patient at a correctional facility has a criminal record. Nurses have to put that to the side and provide the best care possible. Nurses who can show compassion in challenging situations can have an amazing career as a correctional nurse.
In addition to seeing patients in a prison setting, correctional nurses also provide education, counseling, and support. For example, many individuals who enter the correctional system have a problem with chemical dependency. Correctional nurses can help address this cycle of dependency by organizing alcoholics anonymous meetings or other support networks that help inmates overcome their addiction.
Autonomous Nursing Practice
In contrast to most healthcare settings, in correctional facilities there is often not a physician on staff. The lack of physician oversight creates a career space in which nurses have considerable autonomy. Inmate health concerns are almost exclusively handled by the nurse. Many correctional nurses work under protocols that allow them to treat common health concerns without consulting a physician.
In addition to providing nurses the opportunity for increased independent practice and decision making, nurses in the correctional system can choose to specialize. Correctional nurses can focus on mental health, pediatrics, women’s health, immigration and customs enforcement, and forensic science. For nurses who are looking for more professional responsibility or considering a new specialty, corrections nursing is a great way to learn new skills.
Although correctional nurses have more autonomy than nurses in traditional healthcare settings, correctional nurses are still part of an interdisciplinary team. The team includes other nurses, nursing aides, counselors, and corrections officers. Teamwork is essential to success as a correctional nurse. Much of the workload in correctional nursing is managing chronic illness and providing counseling. These objectives are best addressed through continuity of care delivered by a cohesive healthcare team.
Many nurses considering a career in correctional nursing are concerned about personal safety. Thankfully, correctional facilities emphasize the health and safety of their employees. Corrections officers are an integral part of the interdisciplinary healthcare team. Developing a strong working relationship with the corrections officers helps ensure the safety of correctional nurses.
Challenges in Correctional Nursing
Although correctional nursing offers tremendous opportunities for career growth, it can also have set backs too. The primary challenges in correctional nursing include:
- There are fewer resources than traditional healthcare settings.
- Patients may have a wide range of symptoms or problems.
- Incarcerated individuals are more likely to have chronic illness, mental illness, and or addiction problems than the general population.
Since the primary object of correctional facilities is to rehabilitate and house inmates, they have fewer resources than a traditional healthcare setting. Correctional nurses need to use problem solving skills to address their patients’ needs with the resources available. Although this can be challenging, it also gives nurses the opportunity to be creative about the use of their resources.
In addition to adjusting to a non-traditional healthcare setting, correctional nurses need to manage a wide range of symptoms and illnesses. Many inmates have chronic illnesses that need ongoing care and suffer from mental illness or chemical dependency that needs to be addressed.
Balancing the opportunities and challenges of correctional nursing takes dedication, compassion, and a willingness to think outside the box. The incarcerated population has unique healthcare needs and nurses are the ideal healthcare provider to meet those needs. Providing nursing care to this patient population is very rewarding and is a great opportunity for nurses looking for a career change or more professional autonomy.
If you are looking for a travel nurse contract with great pay and the ability to explore exciting new areas of the country, a 13 week correctional nursing contract is a great option. A short term contract is the perfect length of time to try out a new specialty. If the demands of correctional nursing are not a good fit for you, you can always go back to a more traditional setting. If you enjoy the autonomy and change of pace, a new career will be opened up that provides unmatched professional growth and personal satisfaction.