So you are thinking about correctional nursing and even have an interview set up at a local facility. Besides preparing yourself to be at your best for the interview, consider how you will determine if this correctional setting is a good place for you to work. There are three important components of a quality correctional health care setting.
- Personal Safety
- Professional Safety
- Collegiality and Collaboration
Even though you prepare for your interview with the idea of a job offer in mind, you also want to fully evaluate whether you will be safe and able to work effectively in the setting. You also want to determine your emotional response to being behind bars. Some nurses are unnerved by the security process or the number of locked doors they must pass through before reaching the medical unit. Be mindful of your surroundings and your emotional response as you are escorted to the interview location.
During your security entry take note of the diligence with which the officers perform their duties. You want to know that they follow procedure and are not lax in their position. If their focus is on chatting or other non-work activities they may be distracted from their primary role – your safety.
Be sure to get a full tour of the facility including every location in which you may be working as a staff nurse. Pay attention to the number and location of custody staff at each location. There should be an officer available at all times for security purposes. When touring the care delivery areas take note of the layout of the area and how staff access officers when at risk. For example, are there alarm buttons in rooms or are staff always within hearing distance of security staff. Note how many security staff are available and if they have multiple duties or distractions. They should be attentive to what is going on in the unit.
During the interview you will be asked for any questions you might have. Take this opportunity to find out the following:
- Does nurse orientation include orientation to security procedures and dealing with inmates? A good orientation in corrections includes more than policy and procedure. You will want to hear that you would receive information about security procedures, how to remain safe in the facility, safety codes and rules, as well as how to deal with the inmate population.
- Are nurses given safety alarm mechanisms? What is used in this facility? There should be a mechanism for nurses to sound an alarm if they feel they are in an unsafe situation. Generally, staff will not be out of sight and/or sound of a custody officer at any time. However, even with mirrors for ‘blind spots’ there is a small opportunity for loss of contact. A well-run facility will have a mechanism in place to alert security of an unsafe situation.
- What is the procedure for nurse movement in the inmate areas of the facility? The safest procedure is an officer escort but some settings may allow staff members to travel from checkpoint to checkpoint. Staff should not travel alone in areas where there may be direct contact with inmates.
Being safe from physical harm is a priority for working in a correctional setting, but professional jeopardy is also important. Professional safety involves the level of risk to your license and professional integrity. Professional practice is bound by the Nurse Practice Act, the Scope and Standards of Practice, and the Code of Ethics for Nurses. Since correctional facilities are not primarily health care sites, some settings may not have sufficient nursing structure to support safe professional practice. It may be difficult to observe professional safety in place during a facility tour but questions can be asked that will help determine professional risk.
- Who will I report to in this position? If the medical unit manager is not a nurse, there should be a registered nurse with responsibility for nursing practice issues. This might be a Director of Nursing at the facility or might be a Regional Director of Nursing with oversight for several facilities.
- What is the procedure if I have a nursing practice issue? Nursing practice issues need to be resolved through nursing leadership. Unlicensed managers or correctional leaders are not equipped to make nursing practice decisions.
- What levels of staff will I be working with and delegating to? This question will help you determine if delegation to LP/VNs or unlicensed assistive personnel is required.
- What is the procedure if I see unethical health care practice or unethical treatment of patients by correctional staff? Many correctional nurses find themselves witnessing unethical practices among officers and healthcare staff. It is important to know that there is a process for reporting and ending unethical practices.
- Is the facility accredited by NCCHC or ACA? Current accreditation with either of these independent bodies indicates that the facility meets nationally recognized quality standards. Their seal of approval is similar to a Joint Commission accreditation for hospitals. An accredited facility is more likely to have well running clinical processes and established practices.
Collegiality and Collaboration
Good correctional health care is nearly impossible without the cooperation of officers and correctional leadership. While taking the facility tour, observe how nurses and officers interact in the housing areas and medical unit. Is the atmosphere tense or friendly? Are nursing requests met with equanimity or distain? What does the body language tell you about the nature of the relationship among the disciplines in the organization? Additional questions can also be asked about communication among the disciplines.
- Do the officers consider nurses colleagues or guests in the facility? In a smooth-working facility, health care staff are considered part of operations rather than a guest. Guest status may seem preferable. After all, in a hospitality situation, guests are often treated better and with more courtesy than family. However, guest status in a correctional facility can mean health care staff are unable to negotiate for or advocate for patient health care. In a secure setting, guests who don’t comply with the status quo can be escorted out of the facility and banned from return.
- If I had an issue with an officer about a patient’s health need that couldn’t be resolved, what is the next step? Correctional nurses must respectfully collaborate with officer peers regarding the health needs of the patient population. When an important patient health issue cannot be resolved at the peer level, there needs to be a mechanism to engage various levels of leadership until a mutually satisfying solution is found.
Interviewing for a nursing position at an unfamiliar correctional setting is as much about evaluating the work environment as it is about being evaluated for a good fit for the position. Take time during the interview process to determine the level of personal safety, professional safety, and collegiality in the organization. Armed with this information you can decide how you want to answer when you get that job offer!
Do you have experiences interviewing for a correctional nursing position? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.