Nursing in a Correctional Facility

When most people think about becoming a nurse, they think of working in a hospital or doctor’s office. Once they begin their training, they realize there are numerous other locations where they can practice nursing, such as schools, clinics, and nursing homes. There are also specialties within the field of nursing a nurse may wish to focus on such as geriatrics, pediatrics, obstetrics, or surgery.


I have not yet met a nurse who began his or her nursing education with the idea of becoming a nurse in a correctional facility. Most that I know ended up there because it was a convenient location or because they wanted to have a greater impact on the lives of their patients. All of the nurses I’ve met who do work in a correctional facility, however, tell me it is more rewarding than they ever imagined, as well as more challenging.

I’ll begin with the challenging aspects of the position, because many assume the job would be more challenging than rewarding. First, additional training is required for a nurse in a correctional facility. This can include how to interact with prisoners, as well as what to do during a non-medical prison emergency such as a lockdown. Another concern is working with prisoners. There is always a possibility of violence, and even violence towards family members. While the frequency of attacks on either a nurse or her family is rare, it is still a possibility that must be considered.

The medical conditions common with the convict population can also be quite challenging. Psychiatric disorders, drug and alcohol addiction, and infectious diseases are all common. Working with the patients who are mentally ill, going through withdrawal, or demoralized over an incurable disease is stressful for both the nurse and the patient. Finally, it can be stressful to keep all supplies secure especially if treatment must occur outside of a clinical facility.

Now for the rewarding aspects of nursing in a correctional facility. While there, you will meet people who want to change their lives. It is possible to help addicts reclaim their lives and live without the addiction so they can leave the prison system healthier and with the ability to successfully reenter society. Offenders who ended up in prison due to undiagnosed psychiatric disorders often benefit greatly from the medical and therapeutic treatments they receive in prison. The nursing staff facilitates this as much as the medical and psychiatric staff. Finally, it is possible to make a personal connection and become a positive influence for members of the general population as well. Being able to help one prisoner turn his or her life around is rewarding enough to make all of the other challenges seem worthwhile.

What makes working in a correctional facility rewarding to you? What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your job?

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