If you are thinking about jumping into the interesting world of correctional nursing you may be looking for employers in all the wrong places. Who employs correctional nurses?Unlike a traditional healthcare setting, correctional health care units may not be managed in-house, although many are. Below is a primer on various correctional health care management structures.
Governmental Agencies (Self-Operated)
Most correctional nurses do work for the same employer as their custody peers. Currently about 58% of correctional healthcare facilities are in this category. The industry calls this self-operated or self-op. Health care managers in this management structure are a part of the organizational hierarchy and reporting framework. This can be a great advantage for making change or obtaining resources as the health care manager is on parity with other services, therefore fostering support for inmate medical needs. There are disadvantages to this arrangement, as well. Although the well-being of the inmate population is a common goal for both custody and nursing staff, professional frameworks and guiding principles can differ. Nurses in these organizations must be vigilant to maintain professional nursing judgment in all matters of care delivery.
Independent Health Care Service Companies
The next most frequent health care management structures is an independent health care company. Thirty (30)% of correctional health care is provided through a contracted arrangement between the government entity and a health care company. Nurses are most often employees of the health care service company and report to managers within the company. In this situation, correctional nurses need to understand the contractual relationship with the corrections administration to know what may be required of them. For example, services may include providing health care to security staff and emergency treatment to visitors. Also important is an understanding of the communication and reporting structures among all the players. In this situation nurses are guests in the facility and must strive to develop collaborative working relationships with custody staff.
State University Medical Systems
Several state prison systems provide health care to inmates through the state university system. Twelve percent (12)% of correctional healthcare is delivered in this manner. For example, in Connecticut inmates receive care through the University of Connecticut medical system and in New Jersey health care services are provided through the state’s University of Medicine and Dentistry. Nurses working in these systems have the advantage of access to academic resources while nursing, medical, and dentistry students have an opportunity to experience the correctional environment. The corollary in jails is that the county health department may provide the health care at the jail. In this situation nurses have the advantage of access to the resources of the county health department. Although health care staff are not employees of the same entity as corrections staff, a common relationship exists among the government bodies.
Other Correctional Nurse Employers
Nurses may come to practice correctional nursing through other avenues. One area of correctional nursing practice is a locked unit within a community hospital. Hospitals may contract with Departments of Corrections to centralize acute care for inmates. A wing or floor of an acute care facility may be fitted for increased security. All patients on the unit are prisoners from surrounding facilities. Custody officers monitor patients while care is given by nurses employed by the acute care facility.
Nurses may also care for inmate patients as agency or traveling nurses. Many state prisons are located in remote areas far from potential nurse employees. Agency or traveling nurses are engaged for short and long-term assignments at one or several correctional facilities within a system.
So, if you are interesting in trying this nursing specialty, you have a variety of employers to check into. Share your experiences with seeking correctional nurse positions in the comments section below.
Photo Credit: © Brett Mulcahy – Fotolia.com
Hi Lorry! A question for you, and this seemed like a good place to start 🙂 I’m a newly certified CNA and a first year nursing student. I’m ultimately hoping to land in corrections nursing, and as I’m a stone’s throw from FIVE correctional facilities it seems like the opportunity should exist to gain experience in corrections as a CNA while working on my RN.
The problem is, CNA jobs aren’t listed on the gov’t corrections website. I’m not entirely certain who I could, or should, talk to about the possibility of working as a CNA in a facility while attending school. Or if the possibility even exists. Do correctional facilities employ CNAs? Or will I need to wait until I finish my RN?
Any help you could provide would be greatly appreciated!
Lorry Schoenly says
Hi, Renee: Thanks for your question and for contributing to the CorrectionalNurse.Net community. I hope you don’t mind, but I will also be answering your question in the August Correctional Healthcare News Round-Up. We are looking for audience questions and this is a good one! (Ask more, and even leave one on voice mail at 210-446-8773).
Kudos on thinking ahead for a correctional nurse position while in school. Although many facilities do not have CNA positions, don’t let that stop you from making contact with the Health Services Administrator at each of your local facilities to ask about it. I recommend you try to to land an opportunity to come in and see the facility medical unit. You could make it part of a school project, even.
Consider other, non-licensed, positions that might be available to get your foot in the door. For example, many facilities have an administrative assistant and/or medical records clerk position that you would probably be qualified for. I know more than one admin and records clerk who later secured a nurse position (and even the health services administrator position) after graduation and licensure.
In any case, thanks for choosing our specialty for your nursing focus. We need more dedicated nurses in correctional healthcare!