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Scope and Standards: Five Correctional Nurse Roles

I love helping nurses discover the invisible specialty that is correctional nursing. In fact, that was my original purpose in starting this blog over 5 years ago. I was sure that if more nurses knew about our specialty then more would join our ranks. From my own experience I know that few nurses get exposure to incarcerated patients during their education. There are practical reason why student nurses don’t have clinical rotations in the local jail, but it hampers the ability for new nurses to consider entering our challenging specialty. Regularly I am asked by new nurses if they should apply for a correctional nursing position. Although I enthusiastically encourage these individuals; I also caution them to be careful in selecting their first correctional nursing position if they are a new graduate. Here is why: Correctional nurses have so many roles and must often do them with little support and resources. This can be overwhelming for a new nurse; who may need a good bit more structure to get a solid foundation for their nursing career.

Based on the Correctional Nursing Scope and Standards of Practice, here are the five leading roles of a correctional nurse.

Primary Care

Correctional nurses are most often the first point of contact for incarcerated patients with healthcare needs. They manage access to all other aspects of healthcare and make determinations of appropriate level and type of care needed. In this way they coordinate ambulatory care provision to the patient population.

Emergency Care

Correctional nurses also provide immediate treatment of injury and acute illness while determining if a life-threatening injury exists that would warrant emergency transport to an emergency room. Patients are stabilized for transport with the provision of first aid and basic life support.

Health Promotion

The inmate patient population is often underserved with limited healthcare access in the community. They enter the correctional system having made poor lifestyle choices and often have little knowledge of how to manage chronic conditions.  Therefore, correctional nurses have a major role in promoting heathy lifestyle choices while educating the patient population at every encounter.

Patient Advocacy

Healthcare is not the primary mission of correctional institutions. Security concerns and community safety may vie with an individual patient’s healthcare needs. Correctional nurses negotiate the security system and collaborate with officer peers to meet patient health needs within system constraints. They act as patient advocates through these efforts.

Care Coordination

Correctional nurses coordinate patient care within a system arranged for other purposes. Barriers to care must often be overcome. Standard security constraints such as restricted movement or limited personal items can inhibit continuity of care. Correctional nurses must creatively navigate the system to coordinate appropriate care.

Along with the above roles, correctional nursing practice is a merger of multiple nursing specialties: Occupational health, emergency nursing, acute care, community health, psychiatric care, geriatrics, women’s health, adolescent health, palliative and end-of-life care.  A correctional nurse must be prepared to deliver a full menu of assessment and interventions within the security perimeter; knowing when a patient needs to be transported to an advanced level of care or specialty. This can be a daunting task for even the experienced professional.

Although I caution new nurse graduates to pick their first correctional nursing position with care; it can be done. With an extended orientation and good management support, many new nurses have made correctional nursing their first specialty.

This post is part of an ongoing series discussing key components of the Correctional Nursing Scope and Standard of Practice, 2nd Ed. Review prior posts in this series here. Purchase your own copy of this highly recommended book through Amazon.


This post originally appeared in CorrectionalNurse.Net

Guest post by Dr. Lorry Schoenly nurse author and educator specializing in the field of correctional health care. She has written 6 continuing education courses especially for the Correctional Healthcare Campus.

Correctional Healthcare Processes
Safety in the Correctional Setting
The Correctional Healthcare Patient and Environment
Medication Administration in the Correctional Setting
Risk and Documentation in the Correctional Setting
Special Issues in Corrections

You may see all of the online continuing education offered at the Correctional Healthcare Campus by clicking View Entire Catalog.

You may purchase the collection of Correctional Courses in a cost saving package: Correctional Healthcare Nurse Continuing Education Package


Memberships are also available to institutions that would like to provide a library of education to their staff. See Memberships for more information and to request pricing.
Posted: 3/7/2017 9:41:18 AM
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