Correctional nursing. You have probably heard a few rumors about this nursing specialty, but do you know what it takes to succeed in this alternative healthcare setting? Join us as we explore the top ten correctional nursing skills that are needed to provide the best patient care possible.

Please Note: As a correctional nurse, you will always work in concert with the facility’s attending physician or dentist.

Correctional Nursing Skills

1. Mental Health

According to the American Psychological Association, 64% of jail inmates, 54% of state prisoners and 45% of federal prisoners are dealing with a mental health disorder. These disorders range from mild cases of anxiety and depression to schizophrenia and psychosis. As a correctional nurse, you will need to have a firm understanding of the different mental health disorders, their treatment plans and the possible side-effects of any prescribed medications. The American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) is a terrific resource for any clinician looking to expand their correctional nursing skillset.

2. Substance Abuse/Withdrawal

correctional nursing skills substance abuseFor inmates with substance abuse and addiction disorders, going “cold turkey” upon incarceration can be physically dangerous and sometimes deadly. That is why one of the most important correctional nursing responsibilities is to identify and treat those going through withdrawal (from legal, illegal and/or prescribed substances). During the intake assessment, be sure to gather a thorough substance use history from the inmate. Additionally, review these resources from the American Addiction Centers on the withdrawal symptoms and treatments for commonly abused substances:

3. Electrocardiograms

When an otherwise healthy inmate comes to you complaining of sudden onset chest pain, do you know how to respond? In this type of scenario, your ability to correctly use a 12-lead EKG could have life-saving implications. As part of your correctional nursing skill arsenal, make sure that you remember the proper process for applying EKG leads to the patient. This short video from a fellow registered nurse offers a great refresher. Additionally, you should practice analyzing cardiac rhythm strips. EKG.Academy offers hundreds of practice strips, tutorials and quizzes to ensure your skills are ready when needed.

4. Respiratory

Within the inmate population, respiratory conditions (e.g., asthma, COPD, emphysema) are among the most prevalent chronic diseases. Consequently, it is extremely beneficial to know how to operate metal oxygen tanks and nebulizer treatments. While the specific models of equipment will vary from facility to facility, these videos from the America Lung Association provide a great overview on how to use metal oxygen tanks and nebulizers properly:

5. Dental

When was the last time you “brushed” up on oral assessments and dental emergencies? As the correctional facility’s resident health expert, you will play a critical role in inmate dental health. For instance, you will likely be required to catalog all tooth equipment (e.g., bridges, partials, dentures, braces) upon intake. Furthermore, you will be responsible for deciding if an inmate needs to see a dentist and when (either urgently or at the next available opening). Some of the most common dental conditions that you will encounter are:

  • Gingivitis
  • Periodontitis
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Bacterial tooth infections
  • Dental tori
  • Pericoronitis
  • Meth mouth
6. Skin

correctional nursing skills dermatologyWhile you may have been able to rely on the advice and skills of specialists (e.g., dermatologists, primary care physicians, wound care specialists) at your previous nursing jobs, correctional nursing will require you to become a dermatological expert. Skin rashes and lesions are among the most common prisoner maladies. From lice, bed bugs and scabies infestations to MRSA and suspicious moles, you will decide what conditions can be treated with over-the-counter remedies and what ones require a physician’s attention. The following articles are a terrific starting point for building your knowledge of skin issues:

7. TB Skin Test

You were probably taught how to administer a tuberculin (TB) skin test as part of your formal nursing education. However, most nurses in traditional healthcare settings forget the process since this skill is not regularly used “on the job.” As a correctional nurse, you will be required to administer a TB skin test on all new inmates entering the facility. Do not fret! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a library of resources dedicated to administering and reading TB skin tests. In fact, they will ship the following resources to you for free:

8. Phlebotomy

You are probably no stranger to starting an IV. However, do you have what it takes to draw labs on an intravenous drug user? Correctional nursing will push you to develop your phlebotomy skills to the fullest. From collecting samples to determining what tubes need to be used, spun down and refrigerated, the entire process will be your responsibility. This online course is a great resource for those looking to build their blood collection skills.

9. Ears

Do you feel comfortable using an otoscope? Chances are that doctors, nurse practitioners and other specialists have been responsible for inner and middle ear probing at your previous jobs. However, as mentioned before, correctional nursing will require you to make an initial diagnosis before engaging the facility’s physician. The ability to correctly use an otoscope will help you identify which conditions need to be treated immediately by a doctor and which ones need to be monitored. This short video demonstrates the proper way to perform an adult otoscopy.

10. Splinting

After a serious injury occurs, an inmate will be transported to a hospital for a thorough examination and treatment. However, as the facility’s onsite healthcare provider, you will be required to provide first aid until additional help arrives. Knowing how to properly splint the injured part of the body can help prevent further damage or injury from occurring. This article from American Family Physician provides a great overview on how to properly splint different parts of the body.

Are you an RN or LPN that’s interested in working in a correctional healthcare setting? We’re urgently seeking applicants for our correctional nursing positions in Wisconsin and Missouri. Fill out our short contact form below to have one of our staffing experts contact you.

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Explore addition resources from Premier Medical Staffing Services:

A Day in the Life of a Correctional Nurse
Agency Nursing: What’s in it for You
How to Deal with an Angry Patient
How to Rediscover Your Passion for Nursing
Is Your Healthcare Staffing Agency Nurse Owned?