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.)