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What Is a Correctional Nurse?

A correctional nurse is someone who has a nursing degree and works as a nurse in a prison or detention center. This job can be both challenging and rewarding, as a prison nurse is responsible for overseeing the care of individual inmates or detainees. At the same time, the correctional nurse must be sure to maintain safety protocols to keep themselves and others safe.

While every nurse faces challenges on the job, the life of a correctional nurse may be especially stressful. Because they are working with people who have been accused or convicted of crimes who may be highly skilled at manipulation or may become violent while being treated, the correctional nurse must be always vigilant. They must know and abide by the safety processes of the facility where they are employed to prevent threats or injury to others.

What Is the Role of the Correctional Nurse?

The role of the correctional nurse is to administer treatment to inmates who are sick, including treating chronic illnesses. It may also include treating prisoners who have been injured inside the facility. Correctional nurses must administer medications to inmates, as well, and they may be required to accompany an inmate off-site to a local hospital if more complicated care is needed.

What Does a Correctional Nurse Do Daily?

While portions of the workday are highly scheduled, such as head count and mealtimes, this work can also be highly unpredictable. The correctional nurse is the primary care provider within the facility’s walls. This means they are the first medical specialist an inmate sees for treatment. It is up to the nurse whether to refer their patient for further treatment. It is also the nurse’s responsibility to advocate for their patient’s health and medical care. Sometimes, this may feel difficult to do, especially if the patient is someone who has been found guilty of harming others. But, as a nurse, the patient is the first responsibility. Nurses who pursue this line of work should be able to separate who the patient is from the medical treatment they require and provide it accordingly.

On a typical day, a nurse who works inside a prison or detention center may see individual inmates who have scheduled medical appointments. They may administer treatment, counsel patients on diet and exercise, assist with issues such as drug or alcohol dependency, or provide emergency care. If a patient needs additional help, such as mental health counseling or hospitalization, the nurse is responsible for making this happen. On a typical day, the prison nurse will also have designated slots of downtime during which they can work on other nursing responsibilities that do not include actively interacting with patients.

Correctional Nursing Work Environments

Corrections nursing requires working inside a prison or detention environment. The prison may have a designated nursing office or infirmary where inmates report, under guard, to seek medical attention. Surroundings may be somewhat bleak, and the correctional nurse should be aware they will be behind the walls of a prison where security is tight. There are always locked doors between the prison nurse and the outside world, and the nurse will need to show credentials to enter or exit the building.

At times, a prison nurse may accompany an inmate and a guard to a hospital for further treatment. However, for safety reasons, the nurse will never be alone with an inmate.

How to Become a Correctional Nurse

The first step to becoming a correctional nurse is to pursue a nursing degree and become a RN. You must also pass the licensing exam to become qualified, but continuing on to earn your BSN may open up more employment opportunities. Once you have earned your degree and licensure, you may want to gain a few years’ experience in an emergency room, a clinic, or office setting before applying at a correctional facility.

After you have applied for and accepted a position with a correctional facility, you will receive additional training from that facility regarding safety protocols and work expectations.

Professional Certifications

The Certified Correctional Health Professional designation is earned by taking the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare Certification exam. To be eligible to take the exam, a nurse must meet several requirements, including:

  • Possess an active license as a registered nurse in the United States
  • Have two years of full-time work experience as a registered nurse
  • Have practiced at least 2,000 hours in a correctional capacity within the last two years
  • Have earned at least 54 hours of continuing education, with at least 18 hours geared toward correctional health care

Once you take and pass the exam, you can also earn the CCHP-RN certification, which is a valuable accomplishment in the eyes of potential employers. Your certification will be valid for one year, and you must re-apply for certification annually.

If you think a career as a correctional nurse may be right for you, the American Sentinel College of Nursing & Health Science at Post University offers three programs, all provide a a foundation that you could use to further your career in corrections nursing.

Continuing your education could be a formidable way to advance your career and annual salary. The American Sentinel College of Nursing & Health Sciences could be an ideal choice. Our online learning opportunities make it easier to fit school into your already busy schedule. Our experienced faculty provides the support you will need to succeed in your new endeavor. For more information, schedule an appointment with an advisor today.

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Please note jobs, career outcomes, and/or salaries highlighted in this blog do not reflect jobs, career outcomes, and/or salaries expected from any Post program. To learn more about Post’s program and its outcomes, please fill out a form to speak with an admissions advisor.