Role of a correctional nurse

If you seek variety, you'll find it in this nursing specialty. Correctional nurses deal with every aspect of health care, from routine procedures to unforeseen emergencies.

A mix of the routine and the unexpected

Life in a correctional facility has a predictable flow that is occasionally interrupted by crises requiring immediate attention. You'll handle a mix of scheduled appointments and treatments, as well as emergencies requiring you to be flexible and resourceful. Some days will be predictable and others will be very fast-paced.

A full spectrum of responsibilities and experiences

The scope of health issues encountered by correctional nurses is almost unlimited. You'll see and treat chronic and acute illness, injuries, infectious disease, substance abuse and mental health issues. Duties can range from routine tasks, like wound care and administering medications, to dealing with hunger strikes.

Many of your responsibilities may involve patient education. You might teach inmates everyday health skills like how to control their diabetes, make good food choices and develop better coping skills. The information and support you impart will continue to benefit patients long after they've left the correctional facility.

Triage and problem-solving

One aspect of working in a correctional setting that many nurses appreciate is the opportunity to work autonomously and make important decisions about the care of inmates under your guidance. Few types of nursing provide this much latitude.

You may be the first point of contact with patients, including those who come into care with untreated health issues. These conditions may be undiagnosed and untreated until you conduct the intake examination. You might then be the person who decides whether these clients need to be taken to a specialist for additional care. You'll also have plenty of input into how treatment plans are carried out.

Vital member of an interdisciplinary team

One of the most rewarding aspects of correctional nursing is the opportunity to deal with all aspects of wellness - physical as well as psychological. You'll be part of an interdisciplinary team that may include physicians, psychologists, social workers, spiritual advisors and correctional officers.

Caring for the whole patient

Part of your job will be to connect with patients and listen to their stories. They may be dealing with past traumas that manifest in different ways, including addiction, poor choices and suicidal thoughts.

Every interaction is an opportunity to make a small difference, using your instincts of helping, healing and empathy. In this way, you can help reframe the incarceration experience as an opportunity to empower patients to bring positive change into their lives.