Correctional Nursing Career Profile

You’ll find nurses with all levels of education and experience working in the correctional facility setting including Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA), LPNs, LVNs, Registered Nurses, Clinical Nurse Specialists, and Nurse Practitioners. Depending on the education and training level of the nurse, each will have a set of specific duties relevant to their training.

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Professional staff nurses working in this setting will frequently see inmates with acute illnesses or injuries, such as trauma, infection and flu. They also commonly treat inmates with critical chronic disease or illness, such as, HIV/AIDS, drug addiction, detox, mental/psychological illness, kidney failure, pulmonary disorders, cancer and related health ailments. In general, an RN, LPN/LVN will conduct the physical health and medical history of each inmate as they are admitted to the facility and refer any medical concerns to the medical director or on staff physician/nurse practitioner. Nurses will assist the nurse practitioner or physician with “sick call” assessing patients and participating in minor procedures. Nurses also assist the NP/Physician in the dispensing of prescribed medications, always cognizant of the potential of drug hoarding and trafficking amongst inmates. Nurses do rounds on their patient/inmates recording their observations, evaluating their symptoms and progress, charting and reporting anything out of their nursing scope of practice to the medical director or on-site NP/Physician. Frequently the RN will supervise the LVN/LPNs in the facility. The ultimate goal is to provide medical and mental health care, which results in improved health of the inmates.

Experience as a critical care nurse, trauma nurse or medical surgical nurse is often times beneficial, as the experience in a fast paced and high stress environment can emulate what will be found in the prison environment. Skills and personality traits such as working well in an autonomous environment, confidence, excellent communication skills and problem solving skills are all strengths in correctional nursing. It is not uncommon for nurses in the correctional facility to be exposed to violence, vulgarity, and related situations. Nurses in this setting must be competent and confident when faced with any crisis intervention, physical assessment, medical emergency and any medical or psychiatric nursing care scenario.

To become a correctional nurse you will first need to pursue the relevant nursing education pathway, registered nurse or LPN/LVN, CNA or Advanced Practice Nurse and hold the appropriate license and credentials for your position. The most popular professional certification in this field is offered by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC). They offer a basic and advanced Certified Correctional Health Professional (CCHP) certification. All nurses, understandably, will have to submit to a criminal background check prior to employment in a correctional facility. Based on a recent query for correctional nursing jobs, there are hundreds of job opportunities throughout the country in local, state and federal correctional systems. The correctional system includes juvenile correction facilities, penitentiaries, prisons, detention centers and other related facilities. Nurses can be found working in most any correctional facility or related facility. The majority of correctional nurses report that their favorite part of the job is the autonomy.

Many thought leaders in the field of correctional nursing have been pushing for the BSN to become a minimum education requirement for hiring in the correctional system based on the additional education and clinical knowledge gained in these programs. This has not been an implemented tactic at most facilities and CNA, LVN/LPN and ADN educated nurses continue to get hired and work in the facilities. Education is the catalyst for career advancement in the field of correctional nursing and nursing in general. Follow one of the links to find a program that meets your career advancement goals: LPN/LVN programs, LPN/LVN to BSN programs, RN to BSN programs, Nurse Practitioner Programs.

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