Corrections Nursing: It’s (Probably) Not What You Expect

Me, awesome Recruiter: “Would you ever consider an assignment in Corrections nursing?”

Potential Traveler: “Hard pass.”

Me, not feeling as awesome: “Big Gulps, huh. Welp, see ya later!” (Am I dating myself here?)

That brief, and very to-the-point conversation, is like many that I’ve had these past few months with travel nurses who had never worked Corrections. That is, until I dipped my toes into this mostly unknown specialty. I ultimately submitted a few of my Rock Star nurses to our Corrections job openings, got offers for them in as little as 24-48 hours, started them immediately without issue or cancellation, and … gasp … extended their assignments for another 3+ months after they’d been there for a little while.

Wait. What?

Believe it or not, you read that correctly. Travelers have been extending their Corrections assignments with us, more often than not. And many have decided to transition to full-time employment. Who knew, right? 

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“But, hang on, isn’t Correctional nursing…dangerous?”

We’ve all seen the movies and TV shows that often paint a rather violent and gruesome picture of Correctional institutions. (Note: Except for Shawshank Redemption, which is amazing and can be seen on TBS 5x daily. Ugh, I did it again, didn’t I? I digress…) Naturally, this could cause any potential travel nurse to be wary of working in Corrections. You might consider a nursing position in that type of environment to be risky and unsafe. You may even question the sanity of a recruiter like myself for even bringing up the notion of placing you in a Corrections setting. (No offense taken.)

But, you may be surprised to find out what Corrections nursing is really like. I know I was. 

Corrections nursing is safer than you might think.

First, let’s address the big hairy elephant in the room: safety. Corrections nursing is a lot safer than you might think. For the Corrections clients we work with, it is their #1 priority, bar none. There are additional security measures and protections in place, including security guards who are always present, to minimize risks to the nurses and other staff. Again, safety is always the top priority, and strict protocol must be followed at all times, including nurses needing an “all-clear” signal from the officers to provide care in a situation where an inmate needs medical assistance. Some travelers have even remarked that working in a jail or prison was safer than some of the other facilities and settings they’d previously worked in due to all the extra precautions and security measures in place.

“I feel safer at the prison than anywhere I have ever worked. Cameras, officers, cells, chains, lots of doors…everything to keep a nurse as protected as possible.” –Travel Nurse Kim W.

Corrections nursing is an opportunity to provide care for a greatly under-served patient population and to challenge your own preconceived notions.

What does a Corrections nurse do, exactly?

Travel nurses working in Corrections will typically see a wide range of illnesses and injuries. This can be an inpatient or outpatient setting; and, more recently, on COVID-19 specific units. It may vary by facility, so make sure to ask your recruiter which setting you will be working. You will likely see psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, diabetic patients, chronic illnesses, some traumatic injuries, and infectious diseases. Your tasks and duties will often be the same as what they’d be in a more traditional setting. You may assist with monitoring medical supplies, intake of patients, assessing and diagnosing, administering medications, and monitoring patient progress. You will also do charting – typically paper charting – which admittedly can take some time to get used to if you’re accustomed to electronic charting, as most nurses are.

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What does it take for a travel nurse to have a successful assignment in Correctional nursing?

Nurses working in Correctional settings can sometimes struggle with putting firm boundaries in place, and being aware of how compassion for their patients can be perceived. For a profession known for its empathy and compassion, this can feel very unnatural and can possibly cause some internal conflict. Nevertheless, your safety is paramount. While you can still feel compassion and express it as you do in any patient care environment, you don’t want to put yourself in a situation where your compassion is mistaken for weakness. You must be strong, alert, and independent; there is the potential for manipulation in this environment, and we want to make sure to make you are aware of and prepared for that.

On the flip side, you may occasionally hear some snide remarks or encounter rude behavior while on duty. It is essential not to take anything personally and to let those comments slide off your back. Remember, your recruiter is available to listen – at any time – if you need to vent or work through frustrating situations.

On that front, self-care is of the utmost importance when working in settings such as Corrections. Compassion fatigue is a real thing. It’s something you’ll want to continuously check within yourself and communicate with your recruiter and nurse support staff if you begin to experience symptoms.

Self-care is of the utmost importance when working in settings such as Corrections.

Other than that, the ability to work autonomously is a trait appreciated by those who hire Correctional nurses. There will be a lot of routine and protocol, so you must be prepared to follow strict guidelines and procedures, even if it feels limiting and slow.

You must also be comfortable with the fact that you won’t have access to your cell phone for the duration of your shift, and your internet access will likely be limited. For those who get into Facebook autopilot mode several times a day (guilty as charged), this can take some getting used to. But, it allows you to stay vigilant and alert as you’re working through your shift.

“The unique aspect about being a nurse is that this profession can be so diverse. Working in corrections adds an entirely new dimension to your daily life as a nurse.” –Travel Nurse Mary C.

While most traveler nurses probably don’t add “Correctional nursing” to the top of their must-do lists, those who have chosen assignments in this setting are often pleasantly surprised at how safe it really is, and how much they have enjoyed learning about this facet of nursing and expanding their clinical skills. It is an opportunity to provide care for a greatly under-served patient population and to challenge your own preconceived notions about Correctional nursing. The experience from working in this setting will undoubtedly continue to serve you well in other clinical capacities.

So, what do you think, are you ready to hear more about Correctional nursing opportunities? Submit a quick application below!

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Charity Crawford

Senior Healthcare Recruiter at Axis Medical Staffing, Inc.
Charity has been in the travel nurse industry in one form or another since 2008! Despite her years of hard work and advocacy on behalf of her Rock Star travelers, she doesn’t look a day over 25! (According to her, anyway.) A hardcore traveler herself, Charity recently spent 2.5 years abroad visiting several countries. She taught English in Thailand for a year and volunteered in Peru. She loves to swap traveling stories and share helpful hints and tips for her fellow traveling addicts!
Charity Crawford