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Interview – Correctional Nursing

Before we get to the interview, I have to say I’ve been fairly overwhelmed with responses to my request for nurses to interview.  I didn’t exactly mean for this to morph into an interview site, but I have had no interesting experiences of my own at work lately, and I have plenty of people to interview, so this is definitely going to become a regular feature.  I hope you like it.  I am having a blast learning all about the different types of non-bedside nursing.

For this interview, Lorry Schoenly at correctionalnurse.net very kindly answered my questions.

Lorry defines “correctional nursing” as nurses who take care of inmate-patients in jails and prisons.  She got the position by responding to an ad on monster.com when she was exploring new employment options.  She says that before reading the advertisement she didn’t even realize there were nurses in jails and prisons!  She has worked in corrections for 6 years.

So what’s it like to be a correctional nurse?  Lorry says she has many things to do – some days she may give medications in “pill line” (This is prison lingo for medication administration. The nurse is usually at a window or a special location in the pod or barracks. The inmates are lined up and report to the window to receive their dose of medications they have been prescribed) and other days she may be involved in sick calls.  This is where the nurse visits inmates who have simple illnesses such as a sore throat or a rash.

What frustrates you about your job?

It can be frustrating to not have all the equipment and resources that are available in the hospital. For example, there are no oxygen valves in the walls. We have to roll out a big oxygen tank if an inmate is in need. Equipment needs to be located from outside sources when needed. If we need an IV pump, it may take some time to get it delivered.

What about your job makes you proud to be a nurse?

I am proud that nurses are willing to provide care to the unloved and underserved. Inmates are often from the most disadvantaged of backgrounds. Jails and prisons are not always pleasant work environments. It makes me proud to see how dedicated some correctional nurses are to their patient population.

Do you feel you receive adequate support for your responsibilities?

Generally the support is there. It can make a big difference to have a good relationship with the custody officers and administration. Healthcare is not the primary mission of a jail or prison – safety and security is the main goal.

What is something a nurse who does not work in your particular field might find surprising about your job?

It is surprising how many dental issues nurses get into in corrections. Folks coming into a jail often have bad teeth and mouth infections. This isn’t really something you get exposed to very much in nursing school. You need to be able to differentiate a dental emergency from just bad looking teeth.

Lorry, as management, is salaried, but says that most correctional nurses are paid hourly and work 8 or 12 hour shifts.  As with all jobs, she has to set priorities in order to get everything done; the big things are completed but there are always things left on the to-do list for the next day.

Everyone has to work together to get the job done. Working as a team with the custody staff is important because they make sure the right inmates come to the medical unit for various appointments. Custody also makes sure you are secure when dealing directly with the inmates.

Her position required no extra formal training but the orientation did include security training, personal safety techniques and an understanding on inmate behavior.

One of the biggest complaints given by hospital unit-based nurses is that they rarely have time to eat or go to the bathroom. Do you find that to be the case with your job as well?

One of the advantages of correctional nursing is that the pace is a little more manageable. Sure, there are days when it is difficult to get a break, but mostly things are organized enough to get to the bathroom and to actually get out of the medical unit to go to a meal.

Have you ever been scared of an inmate or attacked?

I have never been attacked by an inmate nor have I heard of a nurse attack in the system I worked in. I have been nervous on occasion. Some inmates just look menacing. I am especially careful to be in eye-view of a custody officer in those situations.


(My post about this project and a list of interviews done so far is linked here.)

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[...] questions about what we do in corrections and how care is organized. Check out the post for the full interview. She is interviewing nurses working in unusual specialties for an ongoing [...]

Great interview! So much accurate information. I’m a Corrections nurse and I love my job. It’s a great place to start your nursing career, like I have.

great interview! i never experienced the same but true to form, there are always a million of things that have to be done yet are carried over the next day. sigh

This interview is really eye-opening. I have to admit I had never imagined nurses in prisons, but it is really encouraging to know hear what a great and caring job they do.
Can’t wait to read more of your interviews!

I’m like Lorry in thinking that prisons or jails didn’t have nurses. Her job sounds very interesting. I think it takes a special type of person to do that job. Thanks for sharing this with us. I love the new interviewing thing :-)

Sarah RN

Great Interview, Great Post I wish you all the Best

I think that lorry is one brave strong women… very interesting interview.. : )

Great post! I’m really diggin’ the interview series. Keep up the good work!



That is an unbelievably detailed interview, nice work. It is always preferable to hear information directly from the source (i.e. someone working in the position currently). I wanted to share the official NANDA List of nursing diagnoses with everyone here since there seem to be a large population of nurses who frequent this site.

I worked as Team Leader Health for Dept of Corrections NZ for 3 years and loved being able to utilise my nursing skills to lead the team caring for the inmates who are, by the nature of their incarceration, marginalised. The Dept’s mission statement stated that inmates should get the care they would be able to access if they were in the community, but the reality is that they cannot walk down the road to the Doctor or dentist if they need it, and often these people have not used health services in the community due to cost, financial deprivation, lack of knowledge or other barriers to access. Therefore their health status is usually much worse than the average citizen visiting their GP or other health professional. It was not an easy role, but the challenge of providing a high standard of nursing care in a nurse led clinic environment, in the units and throughout the continuum of care between in-patient and referral to hospital as needed was a highlight of my 30 yrs in the nursing profession.
The challenges came from institutional rules, national policies, inmates previous experiences and current attitudes, other nurses professionlism or lack of it, and day to day trials of being under-resourced as Lorry mentioned. “Making do” is part of the role, but the satisfaction of helping people who are stigmatised and discriminated against, made it very worthwhile. If not for the deskilling going on in NZ prison nurse roles, I would still be there.

nice and interesting site

Another wonderful blog post. Really helpful – it’s always valuable to get first-hand experience, and this is a great example.

Great interview… it gives us an insight to how it’s like working in a correctional.

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  • profileI am Gina. I have been a nurse for 15 years, first in med/surg, then CVICU, inpatient dialysis, CCU and now hospice. This blog is about my experiences as a nurse, and the experiences of others in the healthcare system - patients, nurses, doctors, paramedics. We all have stories!

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