A Hidden Gem
Correctional healthcare is a hidden gem. If you want to widen your scope of practice as a nurse and you are confident in your assessment skills, this may be a specialty you would enjoy. I would suggest knowing the difference between jails and prisons is essential to understanding which culture is the best fit for you.
Both correctional facilities often treat patients who may not have had access to healthcare or who haven’t wanted treatment. In my experience, jails are short-term and have a revolving door for new and old inmates who need more temporary and short-term care.
What’s it like being a Nurse in a Jail Environment?
In a jail, a nurse will see more patients experiencing anxiety, withdrawals from drugs and or alcohol, and untreated diseases. If you like a fast-paced environment and are more task orientated, jails may be a good fit for you. Jail nurses often work more autonomously then as a team in one unit. By the time an inmate is transferred to a prison, they have had health assessments and assigned treatment plans.
State Prisons and Nursing
The feeling or vibe in a state prison is much calmer. Most inmates have a program or job that they work within the facility. Often the inmates recognize that their nurse is the only one that they will see that day that has any interest in their well-being. If you are patient focused, prison healthcare may be a better fit. Most times all healthcare is provided in the one healthcare unit as a team in prisons versus sub-units throughout the jail facility.
It’s a Melting Pot
The nurses you work with come from all specialties. All specialties are needed in corrections especially for long-term inmates. It’s like a melting pot. For example, in one Health Services Unit (HSU) we staff, there is a flight for life nurse, L&D nurse, psych nurse, cardiac OR nurse, and many more. There is a reservoir of skills that you will learn working with your team. Your team doesn’t just involve your fellow clinicians; you will have correctional officers with you on the unit that you will get to know. I speak from my experience in Wisconsin. I’m not certain how other states work. I often hear our nurses say that they feel safer in corrections than any emergency room because of the correctional officers they work with. They have their own security detail where in a hospital they have security in another room at best. To date, none of my company’s clinicians have had any injury or report of feeling unsafe. It’s a statement I’m proud to report.
State benefits are a huge perk in working directly for any state prison. If the process is too long, you can get your foot in the door by going in through an agency. Most states budget for agency every year. It’s less expensive for them by not paying the benefits, carrying the overhead of work comp and malpractice insurance.
Working with an Agency Recruiter
If you want to try a staffing agency for a correctional nurse job, ask the recruiter the following questions:
- What is your placement rate on nurses you submit to this location?
- To make sure they are a preferred agency actually placing nurses in your desired location.
- What benefits do you offer full time employees? And what is the weekly cost of the premiums?
- Some agencies offer benefits from day 1. Make sure the weekly rates and coverage are affordable
- What is your direct hire policy?
- Most states won’t pay a buyout fee. Find an agency that has no red tape; making it easy for you to be directly hired if that is your goal.
- Do you staff long term?
- Are my hours guaranteed?
- Ask if they have been to the location. What’s the culture? What is the management style? Where’s the parking?
- Is there a microwave in the break room? What are their patient ratios?
Correctional work environments for nurses offer a full-time, set schedule in a clinic setting. If it’s something you are interested in, ask to shadow a shift. It is a clinic that comes with the benefits of working in a clinic setting. You may be surprised how different it is than what you may have thought.
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