Correctional Officers are from Mars; Nurses are from Venus –Communication in Corrections (podcast)

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cnt-podcast_cover_art-1400x1400Do you feel like you are working in another world when you enter your correctional facility? Then this episode is for you. Art Beeler, former Warden of the Federal Medical Center in Butner, NC, shares his unique perspective on good communication between officers and nurses. Art has some great advice for working with officers. As correctional nurses we are continually walking the balance between custody and caring to do our jobs.

Here are some key tips:

  • Understand and acknowledge the different perspectives between security and health care. Everyone has a role to play in every situation.
  • Good communication is role modeled from the top. First line managers, especially, must show respect and collaboration among the disciplines.
  • Don’t dismiss officer health concerns of inmates. When an officer contacts health care staff about an inmate, even if the issue seems unfounded, the patient still warrants an evaluation.
  • Courtesy and respect among the staff is important. The correctional environment, by its nature, can be negative.
  • Don’t ignore name-calling or disrespectful communication. Address it directly when it happens.

In the Nursing News

Sounding the Alarm – Patient Safety and Quality Healthcare

Unattended alarms ranks as a top safety issues in acute care settings. An article in the online journal Patient Safety and Quality Healthcare outlines strategies to attend to healthcare alarms. Correctional healthcare may generally have less alarms, but those working in large infirmaries may find this article useful. A four tenet approach is advocated for tackling alarm issues.

  • First, address the culture around the safety issue. An organization may find that over-riding alarms or ignoring them is condoned in the culture of a particular unit or the entire facility.
  • Next deal with the infrastructure supporting the unsafe practice. This can include the layout of the unit or staffing patterns.
  • The third tenet is to consider practices. Here is it best to engage front-line staff in developing a process for alarm notification, verification, and response. What alarms, for example, can be changed from the default to better meet the needs of an individual patient?
  • The final tenet is technology. Questions to investigate in this area include whether staff are correctly using the monitor technology – both as intended and to the full extent.

These tenets are also helpful to guide improvement processes for other safety issues. Consider poor documentation of sick call visits. Using the four tenets, consider how the department culture is affecting this issue and what infrastructure could be implemented to support good documentation during sick call visits.  Involve the staff in providing information about practices that leads to a policy revision to support good practice, and then, see if there is any technology that could help capture sick call visits.

Antipsychotics: Adverse Events That Send Patients to the ED (requires free Medscape Account Login)

An editorial by Dr. Lee Hampton, a medical officer at the CDC, cites antipsychotics as having the highest emergency room visits for adverse effects of other primary categories of psychiatric medications. The antipsychotic drug class includes medication such as haloperidol (Haldol), quetiapine (Seroquel), and risperidone (Risperdal). A study using ER visits at 63 US hospitals over the course of three years found antipsychotic adverse events to be three times more common than anti-anxiety medication, four times more common than stimulants, and five times more common than antidepressants. Of course, the implications for correctional nurses are that patients will be initiating sick call visits for antipsychotic side effects, so it is important to be knowledgeable about how they present. The most common adverse effects noted in the study were movement disorders like trismus (jaw spasms), dystonias (sustained muscle contractions cause twisting and repetitive movements or abnormal postures), and extrapyramidal symptoms such as the lip smacking of tardive dyskinesia or the inability to initiate movement or remain motionless. Also, the atypical antipsychotics such as Seroquel and Risperdal can lead to hyperglycemia and new onset diabetes. Take into consideration the use of antipsychotic medication when evaluating your sick call patients. An appointment with a mental health provider for medication management may be in order.

Summer Fun: Top 5 Reasons You Know You Are A Correctional Nurse

two little girls  sitting in the carHope you are including some fun in your summer. Correctional nursing is stressful. Relaxation, humor, and entertainment go a long way to keeping us sane in our crazy world. Nurses have a wild sense of humor, probably generated from a need to break the intensity of our work helping those who are suffering. It can sometimes be misinterpreted by outsiders as being unkind or unfeeling, that is true. With that in mind, I wanted to take the idea of the “You Know You Are….” List and clean it up a bit for public consumption. There are a couple lists making the rounds for correctional nurses – here is one from a ways back on Scrubs Magazine and a recent one that was published on CorrectionsOne. With a hat-tip to these lists and my own good-natured spin, here is my list of reasons you know you are a correctional nurse. In true Letterman fashion, I have listed them in a countdown:

You Know You Are A Correctional Nurse because

#5 – Your Patients are the Ones in Color-Coded Uniforms

When I started as a nurse in the 1980’s it was fashionable in hospitals to have the staff where scrubs based on the unit they were working in. I was in Telemetry/Critical Care and we all wore tan and peach scrubs and lab coats. I guess that was supposed to be soothing. In corrections, our patients are the ones whering designated colors and staff members are more likely to get a list of colors they are not to wear. This might be, for example, khaki or denim.

#4 – Your Patients Make Up Reasons to See You and Don’t Want to Leave

When I worked in the hospital we had many an AMA Discharge (against medical advice). Even patients interested in the treatment plan were eager to depart the unit and move on with their lives. Correctional patients, however, often see the medical unit as a safe refuge or entertaining diversion. This can mean increased requests and access.

#3 – Shift Count includes Every Sharp Item in the Unit

I cringe when I think about some of my past practices with sharps in a community hospital setting. Things are probably tighter now, but leaving needles and syringes lying about was not of great concern in years past in my ‘free world’ practice settings. You can know you are a correctional nurse if you are acutely aware of the location of every sharp item in your work area. It is important to your own safety and the safety of your colleagues and patients.

#2 – You Get a Police Escort When Making ‘House’ Calls

Having officer colleagues is one of my favorite advantages of being a correctional nurse. Many of my emergency nurse colleagues wish they had more security in their world; especially in major urban settings. Our custody peers watch out for our safety and provide an escort when we are working in the housing area or making segregation rounds.

#1 – When You Look at a Patient Who has Done Cruel and Violent Things, You See a Human Being in Need of Nursing Care

Yes, this is the number one way you know you are truly a correctional nurse. We don’t have the luxury, as in some other nursing settings, to be unaware of the character or background of our patients. If you are working in a supermax setting, for example, you can try to ignore it, but your patients have a violent background. Gaining the ability to look past that and see the inner patient in need of your professional service – that is when you truly know you are a correctional nurse!

Christmas in July  – Add to My List and Grab a Correctional Nurse.Net Coaster

Just to increase the summer fun, I will be sending a CorrectionalNurse.Net Coaster to the first 10 readers who add to my list of 5 reasons. Keep it clean, now!

Photo Credit: © altanaka – Fotolia.com

Three Ways to Use Inmate Grievances to Improve Health Care

Frau mit DosentelefonInmate grievances are a standard mechanism for prisoners to request changes and express discontent with a variety of conditions of confinement such as housing, officer treatment, and inadequate medical care.  Although many in correctional health care see the grievance process as a tedious necessity, inmate medical grievances can be a rich source of information for uncovering system flaws. This patient feedback can actually help improve the quality of your patient outcomes, reduce clinical error, and avoid legal liability. Here are three important ways to use inmate grievances to help provide quality correctional health care.

Fix System Problems

“Last month Doc said I was going for tests about my liver. I haven’t seen my name on the call out list yet. Please help!”

Grievances can sometime unearth major system troubles. A common area of weak systems is the process for outside diagnostic testing. No doubt about it, there is no easy way to get our patients scheduled for a liver biopsy, coordinate officer transport, and the various other arrangements necessary for a successful procedure. The investigation of this grievance revealed that several patient tests had dropped off the log during an extended family leave for the medical unit clerk. Staff turnover can lead to system issues if there are no cross-trained staff to keep processes going. This issue was revealed and resolved through an inmate grievance.

Resolve Staff Issues

“I keep turning in sick call slips but no one will see me in medical. I need some attention right now!”

Sometimes inmate grievances are the result of unreasonable expectations and, after investigation, result in educating the patient about the process of requesting and receiving health care. This request, however, resulted in the discovery that the evening shift nurse, whose post duties included rounding to collect sick call slips, was discarding some slips that she determined were unnecessary to process. Resolving the cause of this grievance may have prevented future patient harm by identifying poor staff behaviors. The immediate result of the investigation was termination of the staff member.

Correct Communication Concerns

“My toe is swollen and infected. I was told I would get better shoes months ago. No one is listening to me.”

This older diabetic inmate rightly needed special foot wear and the state prison system he was in had a good process set up for providing them when necessary. However, the communication between medical and procurement in this particular prison was faulty. Good investigation of this medical grievance revealed the disconnect and initiated a change in communication among facility departments that resulted in faster procurement of medically necessary items such as these shoes.

It can be easy to become tone-deaf to complaints of our patients generated through the inmate grievance process. This is a mistake. Granted, some complaints may be unfounded, but all complaints deserve to be investigated.

To use inmate grievances effectively, a system is needed for investigating grievances, answering them, and tabulating any trends. Here are some tips for a smooth-running grievance process:

  • Have a designated individual handle all medical grievances. If you are a one-person department, that would be you; however, if more options are available, pick someone who has a genuine interest in patient satisfaction or quality improvement. A single communication point for grievances means relationships can be built among those in the facility most likely to be regularly handling inmate complaints; thus speeding results. This also provides a consistent contact point when addressing issues with the patient population.
  • Make sure your system is set up to address grievances promptly. Consider grievances like sick call request and turn around a first response in 48-72 hours. A complicated issue may take more time to resolve but you patients should to know they are being heard and that the wheels are in motion.
  • Categorize grievances related to common quality issues once an investigation of the situation indicates a primary cause. Here are some suggested categories:

o   Capacity Issues: Staffing/Supplies

o   Communication

o   Patient Information/Understanding

o   Staff Issues: Knowledge, Accountability, Skill

o   System/Process Issues

  • Tabulate grievance themes in your quality improvement program and investigate trending issues with a formal process or outcome study. Once a trend is seen, a quality improvement study will validate a quality problem and provide baseline data for tracking the outcome of system changes.

Inmate grievances can be a useful source of information about your clinical program. How are you using inmate grievances? Share your experiences in the comments section of this post.

PS – You still have time to get a free downloadable copy of my new ebook – The Correctional Nurse Manifesto - by signing up for my email list. Use this link Hurry! Offer ends July 5!

Photo Credit: © puje – Fotolia.com

Managing Nursing Sick Call Requests (podcast)

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cnt-podcast_cover_art-1400x1400Jessica D. Lee MSN CCHP, Vice President of Nursing Support Services for Corizon Health, shares key components of a well-managed nursing sick call process. She should know! In her position, Jessica manages policy and procedure development and implementation for nursing care provision in over 500 jails and prisons. She has helped many jails and prisons improve sick call delivery.

Nursing sick call is one of the key ways ambulatory care is delivered in a correctional setting. This process allows inmates to request to be seen for a medical condition. Here are some of the basic elements of nursing sick call from the episode:

  • Each patient needs education on procedures for requesting medical attention. This usually happens at intake and needs to be provided in understandable terms.
  • The request process can take various forms and may be through a written request or a daily walk-in system.
  • Triaging requests is also a key component. Unlike emergency care, in the correction it is the review and prioritization of the request so that there is a disposition or decision. The patient may need to be seen immediately or routinely. Requests may be referred out to another professional such as a dental visit. Whatever the outcome of the triage process, the patient needs to be informed. Other requests may be informational, such as finding out the results of a diagnostic test or the need for refill of a medication.
  • Protocols are also important. Usually there are written guidelines telling the nurse to obtain assessment data based on the health history and initiating concern. Protocols also provide direction for the interventions to take based on the data collected.
  • Appropriate referrals are also needed for an effective sick call process. These are based on assessment findings when treatment indicated is beyond the nurse’s scope of practice.
  • Timeframe is important. Nurses must determine if the patient needs to be seen by another provider immediately or if the referral can be merely routine.
  • Patient education is a priority for every nursing encounter. This is certainly true for nursing sick call. In particular, the nurse needs to be sure the patient understands the outcome of the sick call visit and steps they need to take after the visit.

Nursing sick call is central to good correctional health care. Nurses are very often gate-keepers to other medical care in the correctional setting. It can be a good indication of weaknesses in other areas of the program such as intake and chronic care.

Sick call can also be a risky part of correctional healthcare with some common problems. Listen to this episode of Correctional Nursing Today for Jennifer’s take on common problems for nursing staff and nurse managers.

What do you find most challenging when delivering nursing sick call in your setting? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

Other News on the Podcast:

  • In this podcast I comment on my recent CorrectionsOne column on restraint chairs. Link:  CorrectionsOne column on Restraint Chairs.
  • Also, I am traveling south for some sun the end of March so there will be no March 2014 Correctional News Round-Up.
  • Keep up with correctional healthcare news by following me on twitter, facebook, or linkedin.

What’s Bugging You? Lice Identification and Treatment

baboon grooming another closeup isolated on blackDuring a jail intake for a homeless man brought in for vagrancy, a nurse sees some tiny insects flying about his clothing and he is scratching at them as she interviews him. She is concerned that an infestation may result and initiates a protocol for lice which involves shampooing and showering with the insecticide permethrin and a special laundering process for all clothing. Was this the right action?

Correctional nurses need to be aware of various infestations as a high percentage of inmates in some locales are prone to head, body, and pubic lice. Once these little hitchhikers enter a facility they can spread by direct physical contact or through sharing of personal items like clothing, bedding, or towels. Was this patient infected with lice? Let’s look at some information about these little critters.

Do lice fly?

Lice remain on a person’s hair or clothing and wander to the skin to blood feed once or more often each day. They have tiny straw-like mouthparts – similar to those of mosquitoes – that they use to suck blood from skin capillaries. They’re unable to burrow into the skin. Lice never develop wings, so they cannot fly.  They’re also incapable of jumping. So, this patient did not have lice.

Lice cause itching

Lice may cause an allergic reaction that can cause itching. For head lice, the itching tends to be mild and temporary.  Body lice tend to cause far more itching, and even make the infested person feel ‘lousy’. Public lice tend to cause much itching in the affected area.  This patient’s itching may be caused by the insect in question but further investigation is needed.

Lice are not very common

Lice are not nearly as prevalent as is generally believed, and other creatures and objects on a person are frequently mistaken for lice.  Other insects include fleas, ticks, mites and bedbugs. None of these insects have wings, though. The homeless man in our case may merely have gnats or fruit flies about his person.

Lice are relatively tiny – as small as a poppy seed and as large as a sesame seed. A screener must have good eyesight, be close enough to see the creature, use a magnifying lens, and some expertise to identify lice; distinguishing them from other insects. In fact, other kinds of insects and even bits of debris are frequently mistaken to be lice. As in this case, misdiagnosis and unnecessary treatment can be frequent.

When in doubt – don’t treat

Treating everyone who enters a facility is not a good idea; nor is it cost effective. Treatment focused just on those infested is consistent with sound medical practice.  It can also dramatically save time and precious funds; while reducing the risk of lawsuit. The standard medications used in prisons for delousing contain the insecticides permethrin and pyrethrins. These have become less effective as resistance is becoming widespread.

When positive lice identification is confirmed, treatment can be ordered as follows:

  • Head lice can be treated with one or two 10-minute applications of a pediculicide.
  • Body lice usually require no treatment to the person. Instead, a person with body lice should bathe and change into prison-issued clothing. The infested clothing should be disinsected by proper laundering, or disposed of.  If body lice are detected on the body hairs of a person, a full-body treatment with a pediculicide is needed.
  • Pubic lice would necessitate treatment to the affected area only.

Ongoing prevention measures for lice include frequent (at least weekly) laundering of clothing and linens, and early recognition and treatment of genuine infestations.  The Federal Bureau of Prisons Lice and Scabies Protocol of March 2011 recommends the following actions:

  • Be sure laundry temperatures are set to at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit to kill lice and their eggs on linens and clothing. Use a hot cycle for drying, as well.
  • Educate inmates about lice and how to get treatment if they observe lice. The FBOP Protocol includes inmate education handouts that might be helpful.
  • Inmates should not be transferred to other facilities until 24 hours after initiation of treatment.  If moved before the 2nd treatment application (7 days), communication and continuation of treatment should be provided.

How are you managing lice, bedbugs, fleas, and ticks in your facility? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

Photo Credit: © Sascha Burkard – Fotolia.com

Scope and Standards: New Definition of Correctional Nursing

ANA StandardsHow has professional nursing practice in the correctional setting changed and evolved over the last decade? When discussing any concept, the first place to start is with a definition. How has the definition of correctional nursing changed over the years?

To start with, the very name of our specialty has moved from corrections nursing to correctional nursing. This name change indicates a movement away from purely defining nursing practice based on location. Similar evolutions have taken place in such specialties as emergency nursing (no longer Emergency Room Nursing) and Perioperative Nursing (no longer Operating Room Nursing).

Definition of Corrections Nursing in 2007

Corrections nursing is the practice of nursing and the delivery of patient care within the unique and distinct environment of the criminal justice system.

As the general definition of nursing has progressed, so has the definition of correctional nursing. This edition of the Correctional Nursing Scope and Standards of Correctional Nursing unveils an expanded definition of correctional nursing which mirrors the 2010 ANA definition of nursing.

Definition of Correctional Nursing in 2013

Correctional nursing is the protection, promotion and optimization of health and abilities, prevention of illness and injury, alleviation of suffering through the diagnosis and treatment of human response, advocacy, and delivery of health care to individuals, families, communities, and populations under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system.

Nurses practice professionally in every setting. Therefore, the core components of correctional nursing include protecting, promoting, and optimizing the health and abilities of patients. Nurses in all practice settings, including corrections, prevent illness and injury while alleviating suffering. Correctional nurses, as those in other settings, diagnose and treat the human response to illness and injury. They advocate for their patient’s health and deliver health care to individuals, families, communities, and populations.

The location of care – under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system – does give context to the practice of nursing. The criminal justice system presents the unique environmental constraints and ethical dilemmas of our specialty. In addition, the criminal justice system creates a unique patient population for nursing care. This patient population has demographic characteristics and illness patterns that require specialized nursing knowledge. The combination of environment and patient can lead to specific patient advocacy situations for correctional nurses.

What do you think of the new definition of correctional nursing? Share your thoughts in the comment section of this post.

The full Correctional Nursing Scope and Standards of Practice, 2nd Ed. Is available through amazon.com.

Top Six Posts of 2013

six balloonsThank you for being a part of CorrectionalNurse.Net this past year! Your comments and suggestions make this blog a helpful resource for nurses new to the specialty and those interested in keeping abreast of the latest news and information important to working in jails and prisons. In fact, my goal for this blog is:

Informing, encouraging, and inspiring nurses who care for vulnerable, marginalized patients in the low resourced, ethically challenging criminal justice system.

This blog has been around for more than 4 years now and has over 250 informational posts in a variety of categories. Search by key word using the search field in the upper right or by category using the drop-down menu on the right sidebar.

Here are the six most popular posts in 2013. Check them out if you missed them when they originally aired. Stay tuned for more great information in the year ahead. I hope you visit often and include your views by commenting frequently.

#6 Confidentiality, HIPAA, and the Correctional Nurse

Concern continues for the confidentiality of patient medical information. Correctional nurses must navigate within a security system that often requires the exchange of medical information for safety and good patient care. What medical information can be shared? This post provides information directly from the HIPAA code that specifically addresses the correctional setting.

#5 Women’s Health in Prison

Women may only constitute 7-12% of the incarcerated population, but their healthcare needs can be great. Maybe increased interest this year can be attributed to the popular Netflix show “Orange is the New Black” – a portrayal of life in a female federal prison.

#4 Taser Injury – The Stunning Truth

Correctional nurses take care of an extensive variety of conditions and some that are rare in more traditional settings. Taser injury is one such unusual care situation. This post covers assessing and treating post-taser wounds as well as what conditions render persons at high risk for increased injury from being tased.

#3 8 Medication Rights – Not 5?

Just when you think you are up-to-date something changes. That is life as a practicing nurse. This post adds three new ‘rights’ to the classic 5-rights of medication administration and is actually reposted from the blog of a fellow nurse. A great review!

#2 Interview Guide: Part I   Part II

Many nurses discover this blog while looking for help in preparing for their first interview for a correctional nursing position. This 2-part series shares tips for determining if a correctional setting will be a safe work environment along with questions that may be asked during the interview.

#1 Dental Issues for Correctional Nurses

By far, dental issues were the greatest learning curve for me in entering this specialty. This post has some great pictures provided by Dr. Stephen Mitchell and is a big help for nurses who need to know what is routine and what is a possible emergency when dealing with dental conditions.

What was your favorite post of 2013? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo Credit: © Kyrylo Grekov – Fotolia.com

December 2013 News Round-Up (podcast)

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cnt-podcast_cover_art-1400x1400Regular panelists Johnnie Lambert, Mari Knight, and Margaret Collatt help us close out the year with discussion of December 2013 correctional healthcare news. Let’s roll……

Story #1: Eye Care Rare Among Low Income Diabetics – Implications for Correctional Nursing?

Our first story, while not specifically about correctional healthcare has a very real connection for our consideration. A Reuter’s news story reports on a study finding that young low-income diabetics are not attending to their eyes. Our inmate population fits this profile – young, low-income and often diabetic. Are their implications for our patient care here?

Story #2: Psychiatrist Shortages in Corrections?

Our next story is from the California Prison System. California Healthline reports that the state prison hospital has had to cut services and reduce admissions due to a psychiatrist shortage.

Story #3: Orange is the New Black and Women’s Prisons Portrayal

Story #3 from the Washington Post lauds the Netflix series ‘Orange is the New Black’ as a fairly accurate portrayal of a women’s prison. Do you think having a program based on a women’s prison might be helpful in raising awareness of incarcerated women and their plight?

Story #4: Mother Antonia Passes

Our final news item is the sad report that Mother Antonia Brenner has passed on. She was dubbed the Prison Angel for her work with the poor and imprisoned in Tijuana, Mexico. She has an amazing story. Her prison worked grew from her charity work among the poor in California where she was a twice divorced mother of eight children. Eventually she moved into a cell in the Tijuana Prison to more fully experience the lives of those she served. Hers is an inspiring story of kindness and sacrifice.

What is your take on the December news? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

Christmas is About the Children

Little child decorating christmas tree

With my grandson nearly 3 years old, our Christmas this year is full of toys and wonder and a reminder of the Babe long ago who brought hope to the world; whose birth we are celebrating. Christmas is definitely a time for children and a reminder of how many children have parents behind bars in our country. These young victims of their parent’s crimes suffer grave consequences, including separation from their parents during the holiday season.

According to the Bureau of Justice, 1.75 million children have a parent in a state or federal prison this Christmas. Many inmates have multiple children and the Sentencing Project estimates that 1 in every 50 children in this country has a parent behind bars. These are sobering numbers amid the lights and glitter of our holiday celebrating.

Children in this situation may be lonely and feel alienated from the season’s festivities. Even if able, visiting a parent in prison during this time of year can bring more sadness than cheer; emphasizing the obvious separation.  Distance and lack of financial resources may make visiting impossible and incarcerated parents may be unable to afford providing even a token gift for a child.

If the incarcerated parent is also the primary care provider, the child may be living in foster care. More fortunate children may have a loving extended family member willing to provide support and supervision during this period. According to an economic study of incarcerated families, children with incarcerated parents are more likely to have difficulty in school with more aggressive behavior noted among boys and an increased chance of being expelled or suspended.

Most of us will not be able to make as great an impact as 2012 Miss America, Lauren Kaeppeler, who is using her platform to bring more attention to the plight of kids of incarcerated parents. Her father was incarcerated when she was a teenager and she has first-hand experience of the effects of a parent behind bars. However, every one of us can do something. Here are just a few of the organizations that are helping our patient’s children cope with the impact of prison on their lives. This Christmas season, consider contributing to one of these charities, or another you may be aware of in your community:

Prison Fellowship: Angel Tree

Camp Spaulding – New Hampshire

Children of Promise – New York City

New Hope – Oklahoma

Does your facility do anything for inmates and their children on Christmas? Could they? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

Photo Credit: © allari – Fotolia.com

Vicarious Traumatization in Correctional Nursing (podcast)

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cnt-podcast_cover_art-1400x1400Have you ever felt traumatized at the end of your work day? Maybe you have gone through periods of feeling very burned out in your nursing practice. In this episode I talk with Tanya Munger about her research into vicarious traumatization of correctional nurses. She surveyed correctional nurses from around the country about their experiences with this phenomenon. Tanya Munger, MSN, FNP-BC, CNOR, CCHP, is Clinical Instructor, Department of Health Systems Science, UI College of Nursing at Rockford, IL. She worked as a nurse practitioner with UIC College of Medicine inside of the Winnebago County Jail, the second largest county jail in the state of Illinois.

What is vicarious trauma?

Vicarious trauma is the result of taking on and absorbing disturbing aspects of the traumatic experiences of others, such as our patients. As correctional nurses we work in a harsh system among patients who often have very painful background full of violence and abuse. Regular contact can result in integration of this post-traumatic stress into our own functioning resulting in a variety of alarming symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, depression, and sleeplessness.

What can you do about vicarious trauma?

What should you do if you think you are absorbing the traumatic experiences of others? First, be aware of this possibility and monitor yourself. Be sure to take care of yourself, getting enough rest, health food and activity. Traumatic stress can get you off balance and it might take conscious effort to return to a balanced lifestyle. Find ways to separate yourself from your patient. Remind yourself that this is not your pain. You may be holding it or helping with it, but it is not you. Look for small and large ways to renew yourself. Do what works – which can be different for everyone. Meditation, deep breathing, yoga, creative arts are some small regular options. Larger ways might be taking a real vacation away from your worksite to totally unplug, drain your stress, and re-center yourself. Certainly, if you are experiencing serious or debilitating symptoms, it is time to seek help through counseling or healthcare services. Read more about this condition from the resource links below.

Resources

Burnout, vicarious traumatization and its prevention

For Professionals: Vicarious Trauma

Announcements – Reader Survey

Did you know CorrectionalNurse.Net is running a first-ever reader survey for the month of December? Take the survey and give your input on what you want more of in posts and resources for 2014.