Correctional nurses are registered nurses who specialize in providing care to patients who are incarcerated in some type of correctional facility. They assess, diagnose, and treat inmates with the same level of expertise as nurses at any hospital or clinic, but with distinct differences like stricter protocols and heightened safety and security measures. Despite the potential safety risks, many correctional nurses find their work rewarding and find themselves in-demand to support the needs of an underserved population.
Correctional nurses are highly sought-after specialists and you’ll find various correctional nursing jobs on Vivian at facilities around the United States.
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Correctional Nursing FAQs
What does a correctional nurse do?
Correctional nurses are the first point of contact for incarcerated individuals requiring health care. They typically handle a broad range of medical problems, administering routine and emergency care to treat chronic and acute illnesses/conditions and all types of injuries. Some common duties may include:
Documenting inmates’/patients’ medical histories
Performing drug screenings and collecting samples for lab tests
Providing routine health care to inmates with chronic conditions
Providing initial assessments, diagnoses, and treatments
Handling acute/traumatic injuries, such as broken or dislocated bones and stab wounds
Stabilizing seriously ill or injured prisoners until they can be transferred
Dressing wounds and changing wound dressings
Administering scheduled and as needed medications under strict supervision
Monitoring patient’s progress and response to treatment
Determining whether patients need higher levels of care outside the correctional facility
Educating inmates on their diagnoses and medical care
Providing health counseling to inmates/patients
Maintaining records of medications and medical supplies per facility procedures and state regulations
Maintaining protocols and safety procedures as dictated by state/federal governments
Overseeing ancillary staff including LPNs and LVNs
Where do correctional nurses work?
Correctional nurses may work for government agencies or private corporations that contract with the government to provide correctional health services. In these positions, they provide direct patient care to inmates in correctional facilities, including federal and state penitentiaries, private prisons, community corrections centers, and city and county jails. Correctional nurses may also find employment at juvenile detention centers, halfway houses, and secure group homes for young offenders.
What skills make a good correctional nurse?
Correctional nurses have diverse responsibilities and encounter a wide range of health issues, so good correctional nurses have an extensive skill set that allows them to handle chronic medical conditions, traumatic injuries, acute illnesses, infectious diseases, mental health issues, and substance abuse. They treat incarcerated patients with objectivity and respect no matter the crime(s) they may have committed, providing compassionate care while always adhering to important security protocols and remaining ever vigilant to their personal safety.
Good correctional nurses are confident and can work autonomously when necessary. They have strong critical-thinking, problem-solving, and assessment skills to promptly provide appropriate care, sometimes with limited supplies and equipment. Correctional nurses react quickly to emergencies and possess good judgment in knowing when to seek additional resources.
How to become a Correctional Travel Nurse
It’s possible to become a correctional nurse with an LPN or LVN license but given the wide range of responsibilities, health issues, and required skills of a correctional nurse, many facilities prefer to hire RNs. Becoming a correctional RN requires an ADN or BSN from an accredited nursing program, passing the NCLEX exam, and completing all state licensing requirements. Newly licensed nurses should gain some experience in traditional nursing settings with experience in an emergency care setting helpful but not necessarily required.
Once hired as a correctional nurse, be prepared to undergo additional training to prepare for this career. Training often covers safety and security issues RNs in traditional settings won’t typically need. Because correctional nurses encounter emergency medical situations that may require them to perform life-saving procedures, obtaining Basic Life Support and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support certifications will likely be required.
While voluntary, many correctional nurses also seek certifications to demonstrate their specialized knowledge and skills related to working in correctional facilities. The National Commission on Correctional Health Care offers the Certified Correctional Health Professional (CCHP-RN) designation for RNs. The American Correctional Association also offers Certified Corrections Nurse credentialing for licensed RNs with one year of work experience in correctional nursing.