If you are new to the blog, you may not know that I was not always a correctional nurse. No, I started nursing in the 1980’s like many new graduates – on a med/surg floor of an urban hospital learning how to manage 20 patients on the night shift. I was young and ambitious back in those days and had charted a career path that included moving to critical care and eventually becoming a critical care staff development instructor. You see, I had decided that critical care nursing was ‘real’ nursing and I wanted to be where the action was. I don’t want to be too harsh on my younger self. After all, the reason I pursued nursing in the first place was my experience as a critical care patient after the birth of our son in 1978 (but that is another story for another time).
At a point of job dissatisfaction in my later career, I came across an online advertisement for a nurse educator in the New Jersey Prison System. Can you guess my first response? That’s right, I asked one of the most common questions about correctional nursing – Are there nurses working in jails and prisons? I had no idea. I applied for the position and fell in love with the specialty.
As I reflect on my dozen years in correctional nursing, I discovered a few things for which I am thankful.
1 – I am thankful for nurses who choose to care for our patient population
At the end of my little book “The Correctional Nurse Manifesto” I wrote, “Correctional nursing can be the most difficult job you ever loved.” It is true. Our patients are often unlovely and unlovable. Our environments are often dreary and in disrepair. Correctional nurses work in some of the most challenging settings imaginable and under the most difficult of conditions. That’s real nursing and that’s real dedication. My younger self had no idea of what true nursing care entailed. I appreciate the dedication of correctional nurses.
2 – I am thankful for officer peers who ‘have our back’
A while ago I wrote in more detail about my thankfulness for our officer colleagues. My time in jails and prisons since then has only affirmed that gratitude. Correctional officers are probably one of the least appreciated law enforcement officers in our society. Like correctional nurses, they struggle to work in difficult settings and with difficult inmates. Yet, society benefits from the safety these officers provide in keeping violent and dangerous individuals in check. Correctional nurses benefit from the personal safety provided by officers every day.
3 – I am thankful for greater visibility of our specialty
Correctional nursing is advancing as a specialty. While still often unknown, there are indications of change. One way nurses are sensitized to a specialty area is through contact during clinicals at school. That is why I am always delighted to see stories like this one in the news. Kudos to Jefferson College of Nursing in Philadelphia for helping make correctional nursing visible to nursing students.
As a graduate nursing instructor for an online program, I teach nurses from all over the country. To do this I must maintain fourteen nursing licenses. Over the last couple of years, I have noted more state boards of nursing recognizing corrections as a work setting. More times than not, I must check the ‘other’ box and fill in my specialty area. However, things are slowly changing and I appreciate that!
4 – I am thankful that correctional nursing has provided a mission
Yes, my younger self had an entirely different idea of where my career might take me. Maybe, you, too, never dreamed you would be a correctional nurse. I am thankful I answered that advertisement for a correctional nurse educator back in 2005. Advocating for increased visibility and encouraging professional nursing practice in our specialty has provided a satisfying mission for this season of my life.
How about you? What are you thankful for as a correctional nurse? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.
Read more of my thankfulness here: