Correctional facilities may not be the typical setting for nurses to find work, but that’s just one of the many advantages of a career in nursing—the opportunities are anything but typical. After all, wherever there are patients in need, there are nurses. And that includes jails. It’s this same demand that ensures nurses always have job options.
Correctional nursing works directly with inmate populations, and as you might imagine, prison nursing has unique opportunities and challenges not found in traditional care settings. Because of this, correctional nurses are often independent, quick-thinkers, and compassionate. Does that sound like you? Read on to learn more and discover if this career is a good fit.
What is a correctional nurse?
A correctional nurse is just like any other type of registered nurse (RN); they just have a unique workplace. These nurses work in correctional facilities to provide health services to detainees.
These nurses must work with a special level of empathy, compassion, and tolerance. A patient’s inmate status does not affect the type of medical care they receive, and nurses can not hold a bias against any individual based on the nature of the crime for which they were convicted. After all, no matter the context, we all deserve access to quality patient care.
What do correctional nurses do?
While the most significant difference between correctional nurses and traditional RNs might be where and with whom they work, there are also some distinctions in the everyday tasks they perform, primarily because of these key differentiators. That said, some of the following tasks are similar to those of nurses in hospitals or private practices:
- Administering medication
- Performing intake exams
- Operating medical equipment
- Performing routine healthcare checks, especially on patients with chronic medical conditions
- Providing acute care for illnesses and injuries
- Caring for wounds
- Monitoring patients who need psychiatric care or help for other mental health issues like substance abuse
- Taking blood and urine samples
- Training facility staff on public health
- Reporting violations of rules or regulations
- Accompanying patients to appointments off-premises
What is a day in the life of a correctional nurse like?
You may not expect to hear this, but the everyday work of a correctional nurse can be even more predictable than that of nurses in hospitals.
Correctional nurses have scheduled appointments daily, many of which will be with patients with chronic conditions requiring monitoring. Others may come in with a specific concern. And, just like in any other healthcare setting, emergency situations arise, and correctional nurses must respond.
How to become a correctional nurse?
Most nursing journeys start in the same place—school. Upon graduation from a nursing program, everyone’s experience is a bit different depending on how they decide to specialize their knowledge or advance their career. Correctional nurses take the following journey:
Get a nursing degree
All nurses must earn a college-level degree in the field. The two program options are an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). If you are unsure about your specialization, we recommend working toward a bachelor’s degree as it is widely accepted across advanced programs. Correctional nurses can start with either base.
Pass the NCLEX
To become an RN, one must clear the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) before practicing. State licensure is also dependent on this test.
Gain clinical experience
Before aspiring correctional nurses head into a prison setting, they must first get enough clinical experience to feel comfortable working independently. These nurses are expected to perform their daily tasks under less supervision than RNs in other settings.
Get certified as a Correctional Health Professional
While correctional nurses are likely to receive on-the-job training, getting certified is still a plus. The National Commission on Correctional Healthcare offers an examination and correctional nurse certification (CCHP RN) to RNs who have worked for two years in the U.S. and put in more than 2,000 clinical hours in a correctional setting. Applicants must also show 54 hours of continuing education, of which 18 must be related to correctional nursing.
How much do correctional nurses make?
Correctional nursing can sometimes seem grueling, but for many, that’s what makes it all the more rewarding. If you feel this work is your calling, you deserve to be fairly compensated for it, right? We certainly think so!
On average, a correctional nurse’s salary is around $55,000 annually in the U.S., although rates differ from state to state.
When exploring the job outlook, correctional nurse job opportunities are more difficult to predict than RN career opportunities. Correctional nurses seek a very specific environment, which can bring limited options. In fact, demand for these healthcare professionals results from unpredictable variables like how many incarcerated individuals are in a location at any given time and the correct functioning of facilities.
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