When nurses look for a challenge, they sometimes head for the dark side. The criminal justice field holds many opportunities for registered nurses. Although RNs may work with victims of crimes, such as those who have suffered domestic violence, they also work with people who are accused of or who have committed crimes. RNs who work in the criminal justice system often perform duties similar to the duties of those who work in other health care settings.
Compassion vs. Safety
Working as a nurse in the criminal justice system is a juggling act. The nursing code of ethics requires RNs not to judge, but to provide the same level of care to all patients, no matter what they may have done, according to the American Nurses Association. In the correctional setting, that expectation must be balanced by the need for safety and the recognition that prisoners may be manipulative or dangerous to health care personnel. Patients may see sweet little you as just another guard, according to an article on the MinorityNurse.com, which makes it difficult to establish a trusting relationship. On the other hand, you may not be able to give a crying inmate a hug -- it could be dangerous.
Gird up your professional loins -- nursing in correctional facilities takes lots of knowledge and moxie. Correctional facilities may require an intake screening -- a history and assessment of each inmate’s physical and mental health status -- which is typically performed by a nurse. Nurses may also administer routine medications or give immunizations, coordinate care with outside services for patients who have conditions such as HIV/AIDS or manage chronic diseases. They must also manage infections, such as the flu, or deal with mental health needs. The environment is typically very strict and the nurse must work closely with security officers. The nurse must also be conscious of anything that might be used as a weapon, such as scalpels or needles.
If you're comfortable wearing two very different hats, you could specialize in forensic nursing. Some nurses are forensic experts who work with courts, lawyers or directly with the perpetrators of a crime. Forensic nurses straddle the worlds of nursing and the law, according to the International Association of Forensic Nurses. A forensic nurse might collect physical evidence from a perpetrator of a crime that can be used during prosecution. Forensic nurses may provide expert testimony in a courtroom that can be used as evidence against an individual who has been accused of a crime.
Boredom in this field is highly unlikely. Nursing care in the correctional system is diverse, according to a May 2010 article on Corrections.com. Nurses may treat stab wounds, cardiac arrest or chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Patients may need critical care or emergency care experience. In some prisons, nurses need gynecological and obstetrical experience to manage the health needs of female inmates. Some prisoners who are incarcerated for life may require hospice care or have other end of life issues.
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.