Job, Career, or Calling? Its Up to You

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see” – Henry David Thoreau

Your CallingCorrectional nursing can be a job, a career, or a calling based on your perspective – what do you see?

  • If you see your work life as an endless string of shiftwork passing pills and triaging sick call slips then you may have a job perspective
  • If you see your work life as a stepping stone to an advanced position then you may have a career focus
  • If you see your work life as meaningful to the lives of others and personally fulfilling then you may have a calling focus

Those who research job satisfaction have found that those who see their work as a calling do work they care about. They consider their work to be more than a means to an end, but an opportunity to find meaning and do something important. These researchers also found that those who viewed their work as a calling were healthier, had greater satisfaction with their life and missed less work than those in either the Job or Career categories.

Knowing your work orientation can help you find ways to motivate yourself and craft a better work situation without having to change jobs. Job crafting, in fact, is a primary way correctional nurses can move from a Job perspective to a Calling perspective regarding their work life.

Dimensions of Meaning

Experts have determined five dimensions of meaning that can be found in work.

  • Money: Although correctional nursing salaries can be competitive, it is not the one of the highest paying nursing specialties
  • Status: Correctional nursing practice has made advances of the last decade but nurses working in jails and prisons can still be stigmatized by their patient population and work setting.
  • Making a difference: Correctional nurses can make a significant contribution to the health and well-being of a marginalized and disadvantaged patient group.
  • Following your passions: What motivated you to become a nurse? How would that align with correctional nursing practice?
  • Using your talents: Many passions also end up being talents. What nursing talents do you have that are applied in a correctional nursing position?

What is Job Crafting?

Job crafting is a way to redesign work perspective, relationships, and tasks to improve job satisfaction. Job boundaries can expand or contract over time based on the individual in the position and the aspects that are emphasized or de-emphasized. It starts with determining the areas of a role that are the most meaningful, provide the most satisfaction, and are aligned with gifts and talents. While in many situations other areas of the role cannot be neglected; focusing on extending time and effort toward gaining experience and expertise in areas of fulfillment craft the position.

Ways to Job Craft

Even in the most structured of job descriptions, there is room for modifications to make work life more satisfying and meaningful. Researchers found that successful job crafters took action in three areas: perspective, relationships, and tasks. Here are some suggestions specific to a correctional nursing role.

  • Perspective: It all starts in the mind. Mentally seeing your work as affecting the lives and health of your patients is more helpful than seeing your work as a list of nursing tasks that must be completed by the end of the shift. Thus, correctional nursing is not medication administration, sick call, emergency response, and intake screening but “the protection of health, prevention of illness and injury, and alleviation of suffering” (definition from the Correctional Nursing Scope and Standards of Practice, 2013). Successful job crafters reframe the social purpose of their positions to align with their values and concerns. What parts of the definition of correctional nursing do you highly value? Be mindful of those themes during your day-to-day activities.
  • Relationships: The type and extent of relationship with various workmates can be a way to craft a more positive work experience. Hang around unhappy, stressed, and cynical people and you will find yourself mirroring their moods and emotions. The reverse is also true. Honestly evaluate the perspective of each member of your work team and develop deeper relationship with those who will encourage and facilitate your highly valued role components.
  • Tasks: Evaluate which elements of the correctional nursing role give you the most pleasure and fulfillment. Ponder the specific themes of these elements. For example, if you enjoy sick call, which parts? Is it the assessment, the patient interaction, the teaching component? Find ways to do more of the satisfying component. That might not mean the original job task. For example, if assessment is the satisfying part of the sick call process then intake screening is also a task that would provide opportunity for more assessment. If patient teaching is the driving satisfier than chronic care tasks may be an additional option. Once determined, seek ways to increase satisfying tasks while decreasing or streamlining less-valued tasks to accommodate the change.

Just a Job? Just a Step in the Ladder? Just a Way to Make a Difference?

So, what will it be for you? Is correctional nursing just a job that meets your monthly bills and is available until you find something better? Is your position just a step on the career path to a position of more power and prestige? Or, is correctional nursing a way that you make a difference in the lives of others, creating a meaningful professional life of compassion and service? In the end, it is up to you.

“We don’t see things the way they are, we see things the way we are.” – Anais Nin

Med Line Tips

Simple expressionist image of people with their hands in the air

Medication line can be daunting for nurses new to the correctional setting. The American Nurses Association Scope and Standards of Professional Practice describe medication administration as a defining feature of correctional nursing and make the point that while the methods of nursing in this setting may differ, the standards of practice remain the same (2013). The correctional nurse may administer medication to a line of 200 or more inmates who gather two, three or four times a day. In addition, the nurse may run med line from a medication cart stationed near the dining hall or by the rec yard or to roll the cart from housing unit to housing unit. Clearly this is not like how medication administration is done in most other clinics, emergency rooms, hospitals or nursing homes. Here are some tips from a previous post by Lorry to make running med line go more smoothly:

  1. Make sure the medication cart or area is stocked with the things you are likely to need including:
  • Patient medications
  • Medication administration records (MARS)
  • Pen, highlighter and notepad
  • Current drug reference book
  • Calculator
  • Pill crusher and packets if needed
  • Pill cups
  • Water and drinking cups
  • Waste receptacle
  • Keys needed to access the medication room, cart, and narcotics container

 2. Take these steps before med line:

  • Scan the MARS for any new medication orders, any new patients, that each MAR indicates whether the patient has allergies and if so, what the allergy is.
  • Check to see that any new medications are available (in the cart or medication room) and if not where it is in the process of getting dispensed and delivered.
  • If there are any medications, you are unfamiliar with check the drug reference.
  • Make any calculations you need to administer the correct dose.
  • Clean the surfaces of the cart and make sure that the water receptacle is washed and ready for use.
  • Perform hand hygiene.

3. Follow the steps each time at med line:

  • Following the same steps is called habituation and helps you not forget a step, if distracted. When you are consistent in practicing this way it is also easier to manage inmate behavior.
  • Use two forms of identification to ensure it is the right patient. Do not rely on your visual memory of what the patient looks like.
  • Locate the MAR corresponding to the patient’s name and identification.
  • Scan the MAR for medications due.
  • Locate the medication and check the medication name, dose, time and route against the MAR.
  • Put the medication in a cup.
  • Repeat for each medication that is due.
  • State the name of each medication to the patient as you prepare to put it into the cup. If it is a new medication confirm that the patient knows its purpose, major side effects or precautions.
  • Recheck the MAR and medications in the cup.
  • Ask the patient if they have any questions about the medications.
  • Watch the patient take the medication, watch for palming and check the patient’s oral cavity for cheeking. Beware of any distractions at this point; diversion is likely.
  • Have the patient put the medicine cup into the waste before leaving the medication cart or window.

When med lines are too long: Sometimes nurses are pressured to abandon the rights of medication administration (right patient, right medication, right dose etc.) in the interest of speed because there are too many inmates to medicate in the time available.  Here are some options to manage this problem without abandoning your accuracy and jeopardizing the patient’s safety.

  • Create a separate time and line for certain medications, like insulin, or those that have tight dosing schedules or certain groups of patients like those just starting a new medication, those on mental health medications etc.
  • Suggest establishing a self-administration program if one does not exist.
  • Deliver KOP medication in another line.
  • Spread patients who are on once daily dosing out among several med lines rather than all in one.
  • Collaborate with providers to reduce the volume of prescriptions and dosing. Can a medication be provided once a day rather than twice? Are there prescriptions that could be eliminated, treated with over the counter preparations, or delivered in long lasting form?
  • Suggest using the commissary or some way to provide over the counter medications other than med line.

What tips would you give to new nurses about passing medication in the correctional setting?  What solutions have you found for the problem of long med lines? Please share your tips and solutions with other correctional nurses by replying in the comments field of this post.

For more about correctional nursing see our book, the Essentials of Correctional Nursing. Order a copy directly from the publisher or from Amazon today!

References not hyperlinked in the blog post:

American Nurses Association. (2013). Correctional nursing scope and standards of practice. Silver Spring, MD: American Nurses Association.

Photo credit: © xunantunich – Fotolia.com

Continuity of medication and solving problems unique to the correctional setting

preso FATMany of the issues that nurses confront in the correctional setting while advocating for patients and their treatment are because health care is not the main goal, the burden of disease is great, and the population is transient with high turnover among inmates.

Problems with medications that arise from the setting: The most common problem in this category are inmates who do not show up to take medication at the prescribed time. While patients have a right not to take a medication in the correctional setting the patient must communicate this to the nurse by stating their refusal. The mere absence of a patient is not a refusal but a “no show” instead. There are many reasons why an inmate doesn’t appear to take their medication; it could be that they are at an appointment, in court or attending a program. It could also be that they have been moved to another part of the correctional facility or transferred to another institution entirely. It could be that no officer has let the inmate out of the cell or the housing unit. The nursing action to a “no show” is to follow up to find out where the inmate is and determine if the dose can be given later. Repeated instances of “no shows” need to be reported to the supervisor so that a systemic correction can be ma

Another problem is having the wrong medication delivered. Because there are so many inmates and they may have very similar names the pharmacy may dispense the wrong medication or staff may incorrectly identify the patient’s and put their medication in the wrong place in the med room or on the cart. This is one of the reasons for insisting upon two forms of identification and checking the medication against the MAR. When inmates have similar names, use of capital letters, color coding or some other way to easily distinguish one from the other is a practical solution.

Nurses who work in hospitals and other major health care settings have the advantage of quick access to the pharmacy for stat or urgent orders. Correctional nurses most often work in facilities that do not have an on-site pharmacy and in fact may use a mail order pharmacy located miles away. And yet there are times when an inmate arrives or an incident happens and a medication is needed quickly. Many of these types of situations can be anticipated (anaphylaxis, for example and medication epinephrine) and the medication stocked at the facility. Imagine though, an inmate arrives who is on the newest HIV medication and no other medication is a clinically appropriate substitution. It doesn’t make sense to stock some of every medication just in case there is a need. Instead, most facilities have made arrangements with a local pharmacy with 24 hour – seven day a week service to provide medications that cannot be obtained timely from the regular dispensing pharmacy. The nurse will be the one responsible for contacting the pharmacy and making arrangements for delivery once the provider has given the medication order. Correctional facilities without access to a backup pharmacy to fill urgent and stat orders jeopardize the health and safety of inmates.

Problems with medications arising from the burden of disease: Inmates as a population are sicker than the general community. There are many studies which have demonstrated the burden of disease among correctional populations. The majority take prescription medications, not only for one or more chronic medical diseases but often for a mental health disorder as well. Polypharmacy is a problem in correctional settings. The impact on nurses is an explosion of inmates on med line or who need KOP meds delivered, lengthy MARS that need to be transcribed and kept updated, and an increasingly complex patient care situation that can produce adverse events. Also the patients themselves, in this case, inmates, expect providers to treat conditions that many of us who live in the community would either not experience, ignore or treat ourselves without use of prescription medication. Because patients in correctional facilities see different providers, medications may be prescribed by one without being aware of what else the patient is receiving. A solution to this is to bring patients on multiple medications to the attention of the medical director or senior medical professional for review. These are patients perhaps better assigned to see one provider and for medical and mental health providers to collaborate when making treatment decisions. These are also patients whose treatment would benefit from pharmacy consultation.

Because of the presence of so many mentally ill persons in prisons and jails nurses are also likely to be involved in administration of involuntary medication to patients. State law and other aspects of law will govern the use of involuntary medication in your facility and you need to familiarize yourself with these requirements; hopefully your facility will have a policy and procedure. Many patients who have gone through the process of having an involuntary medication order put in place are very cooperative with the process. Medication may also be administered involuntarily in a psychiatric emergency; again, be familiar with your facility’s policies and practice as well as state law so that you are prepared if this becomes necessary.

Problems with medications arising from inmate movement: Missing medications are a huge problem, especially in large jails and prisons with multiple locations where medications are administered. If an inmate is moved from housing block A to D block, and a different medication cart is used for these two housing units, the nurse administering medication in block D isn’t going to have the inmate’s medication when it is time to administer it, unless the nurses are informed that the inmate has been moved before the next med administration and someone moves the medication from one cart to another. In this same scenario, if the inmate takes the medication KOP, it gets put into his property when he is moved and he cannot access it until the property is inventoried and returned to him. Solutions to this problem center on improving the timeliness of notification by custody to health care and nursing accountability to put the medication in the new location. For KOP a solution is to ensure prompt processing of property or providing a way for the inmate to bring the medication with them to the new location.

The problem of transfers is even more profound when an inmate is transferred from one correctional jurisdiction to another, from a county jail to a state prison and visa versa, from one county jail to another or one prison to another, from a jail to the Marshall’s Service to a series of jails for brief stays while being transported across country to another correctional facility. Nurses play a key role in providing a written transfer summary that includes a list of the inmate’s medical problems, the medications they are taking, recent labs and pending appointments. When this is not done it may be because the nursing staff did not receive timely notice of the transfer. If you receive an inmate from another facility who reports that they were taking medication it is best to contact the facility to verify the information and follow up until you succeed in receiving it.

Discharges is another problem area. When inmates return to the community, it is a well-established standard that they receive a supply of medication sufficient to ensure continued treatment until they are seen by a provider in the community. Again lack of timely notice that the inmate is being discharged is the culprit. Solutions to this problem are to work with classification officers to anticipate the probable discharge date. Inmates can also be good sources of information about probable discharge dates and provide information about the resources they use for health care while in the community. Some jails initiate discharge planning at the time of intake and provide inmates with information about how to obtain bridge medication until they see a community provider. Most facilities have processes in place to let inmates take the medication already dispensed, to provide a container of especially prepared discharged medication or for the inmate to go to a local pharmacy to pick up medication prescribed by the provider at the correctional facility within a couple days of discharge. The nurse’s role usually is to ensure the discharge prescription has been written, the patient has their medication upon release or has been provided with information about how to obtain the medication from a community pharmacy.

Managing and monitoring continuity of medication

One of the most important factors affecting patients’ willingness to follow the treatment plan is whether their symptoms are relieved and new ones not experienced (Ehret et al. 2013, Mills et al. 2011). If patients don’t feel better, they are not going to continue following treatment recommendations. Increasing adherence to prescribed medication has greater impact on health outcomes than any other specific form of medical treatment (Brown & Russell 2011, Sabaté 2003). Monitoring patients closely for symptom response, addressing side effects promptly and eliminating barriers and other reasons for medication discontinuity increase the likelihood of treatment success (Vellegan et al. a. & b. 2010). These three interventions are within correctional nurses’ independent scope of practice and can therefore be implemented without provider orders.

Specific steps correctional nurses can take to support the patient’s continuity of care in medication treatment are to:

  1. Notify custody staff of patients whose medication requires:
    • Dietary restrictions or a special diet for patients with diabetes or those taking MAO inhibitors for example.
    • Work restrictions such as not driving or using machinery when a patient is taking medication that causes sedation.
    • Canteen restrictions when for example a patient’s salt intake or carbohydrates must be limited.
    • Housing restrictions such as a lower bunk for a patient taking medication that causes dizziness or medically supervised housing for patients on medication that needs close monitoring (rehydration for example)
    • Environmental precautions: such as limiting exposure for patient’s taking heat or light sensitive medication.
  2. Schedule Follow up appointments with:
    • Nursing to check adherence by review of the MAR or the patient’s own medication if on KOP, to collect serial data such as blood pressure, weight, blood glucose and to find out from the patient if they are feeling better (intended effects) or experiencing side effects (unintended effects). Patients with poor adherence should be seen weekly while those with better adherence can be seen monthly or quarterly.
    • The patient’s provider(s) to review labs, discuss progress, symptom relief, side effects, adherence and adjust prescribed treatment as necessary. Provider appointments should be scheduled to coincide with the availability to lab and other monitoring measures as well in time to see the patient to re-order medication.
  3. Schedule lab and other monitoring measures to coincide with and take place in advance so that the data is available for review and discussion with the patient at provider appointments. Be familiar with common lab work recommended for medications you are responsible for providing to patients and help providers remember to order these when appropriate.

What problem areas do you experience with medication treatment that you believe are unique to the correctional setting? Do you have solutions to any of these problems that haven’t been discussed in this post? Please share your comments by replying in the comments section of this post.

For more about supporting medication treatment and continuity of care see Chapter 6 Chronic Conditions and Chapter 12 Mental Health in our book the Essentials of Correctional Nursing. Order a copy directly from the publisher or from Amazon today!

References

Brown, M. T. & Bussell, J.K. (2011) Medication adherenace: WHO cares? Mayo Clinic Proceedings 86 (4) 304-314.

Ehret, M.J., Barta, W., Maruca, A., et al. (2013) Medication adherence among female inmates with bipolar disorder: results from a randomized controlled trail. Psychological Services, 10 (1), 106-114.

Mills, A., Lathlean, J., Forrester, A., Van Veenhuyzen, W. & Gray, R. (2011) Prisoners’ experiences of antipsychotic medication: influences on adherence. The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, 22 (1) 110-125.

Sabaté, E., ed. (2003) Adherence to Long Term Therapies: Evidence for Action. Geneva Switzerland: World Health Organization. Accessed January 24, 2015 at http://www.who.int/chp/knowledge/publications/adherence_report/en/

Velligan, D.I., Weiden, P.J., Sajatovic, M. et al. (2010 a.) Assessment of adherence problems in patients with serious and persistent mental illness: recommendations from the Expert Consensus Guidelines. Journal of Psychiatric Practice, 16 (1) 34-45.

Velligan, D.I., Weiden, P.J., Sajatovic, M. et al. (2010 b.) Strategies for addressing adherence problems in patients with serious and persistent mental illness: recommendations from the Expert Consensus Guidelines. Journal of Psychiatric Practice, 16 (5) 306-324.

Photo credit: © mag – Fotolia.com

Intake Health Screening-Making the most out of this brief encounter

Rear view of nurse assisting man while working at reception desk in hospital

 

Receiving or intake health screening is done whenever someone is brought to a jail or prison for admission. These individuals are being detained for any number of reasons including having been arrested for an alleged illegal activity, involved in an altercation or other suspicious activity that the police were called for, having been tried, found guilty and sentenced to serve a term of incarceration, having violated conditions of parole or probation, or are being deported for being in the country illegally or are being transported by the Federal Marshall.

Persons may be held in custody for only a brief time (hours) or for very long periods of time (life). The length of time people generally spend in jail is considerably less than in prison. Therefore, jails have very high rates of turnover and intake health screening is a very high volume activity. Furthermore, people admitted to jail have been in the community immediately before, perhaps living in conditions that were a risk to their health and wellbeing or they may have been injured during the arrest or while in police detention. The volume of people admitted to prisons is not as great but because they have been in custody for a while their condition may have deteriorated if it was not identified or treated at facilities which held the person previously. Because of the potential to miss identifying a serious medical or mental health condition and delay necessary treatment, intake receiving screening is also a considered a risk prone process.

Chart audit of intake health screening is one way to monitor the quality and effectiveness of the process. I just finished an audit of 25 charts using these three questions.

  1. Were conditions that warranted referral to a provider identified?
  2. Were patients seen timely by a provider when referred?
  3. Were records of previous care requested when the patient reported ongoing or recent treatment?

Several problem practices were identified that would be good to review further so that corrections can be put in place. I have seen these same problems with intake screening before and so wanted to share them with you to see if your experience is similar and if you have found ways to improve? The following paragraphs describe these findings and suggest possible corrective action.

  1. Practices that reduce the likelihood of identifying a medical or mental health condition that should be referred include:
  • Not collecting serial assessments when abnormal results are found initially. There are many things that can cause elevated blood pressure, including stress, agitation and withdrawal. The same with pulse, blood glucose and peak flow readings. Repeating tests that were abnormal at the end of the assessment or having the inmate wait a bit to reassess adds important information. Results that don’t improve or worsen need to be followed up and a nurse cannot depend on the next person down the line to pick it up. Consideration should be given to removing the barriers that get in the way of obtaining serial assessment data at intake screening.
  • Not inquiring further to yes answers or when the patient reports a medical or mental health condition. For example, if the patient says that they have seizures follow up questions should elicit a description of the type of seizure, when the last one took place, how often they happen and what treatment did the patient receive. Another example was a woman who reported in response to the social history questions that she had been forced to have sex and did not feel safe living at home. Maybe the nurse expected the social worker to pick up on this later but the absence of any additional inquiry or explanation on the part of the nurse indicated that this information was ignored in considering possible health problems. Developing question prompts may help nurses follow up on positive answers.
  • Not going further to establish rapport with patients who give minimal answers or deny obvious problems. An example I see frequently is a patient who denies alcohol or drug use when either their current condition or history of arrest suggest it is likely untrue. A follow-up question or statement to challenge the answer in a non-threatening manner may yield better information. Receiving screening is a dialogue not just rote fact finding using a standardized questionnaire. When the patient’s answer is no to every question you have to consider if language or some other barrier is effecting the patient’s disclosure. Here are some techniques that build rapport during intake screening:
      • Professional appearance of the nurse
      • Focus on the patient
      • Have a neutral or friendly facial expression
      • Allow silence so the patient can reflect and respond
      • Eye contact that is neither too much or not enough
      • Ask questions without reading verbatim
      • Avoid use of leading or biased questions
      • Avoid body language that is perceived as superior or judgmental
      • Do not be distracted, preoccupied or rushed
      • The setting provides privacy

2. Practices impacting timely referrals to providers include:

  • Not following up when nurses make urgent or priority referrals to a provider to make sure the patient is seen timely. We all get busy during the shift and it may be that something is preventing the provider from seeing the patient within the timeframe the nurse requested. Or it may be that the communication about the patient’s priority was missed. The person making the referral bears responsibility to follow-up to make sure that it is accomplished or an acceptable alternative put in place. This is the sixth step in the nursing process; evaluation and revision of the plan of care.
  • Not ensuring that patients are seen by a provider promptly when they return to the facility after diversion to the emergency room. When the ED clears an arrestee for jail it simply means that their condition is not urgent enough to require further monitoring in the ED or admission to the hospital. It does not mean the person was medically cleared and therefore intake health screening is not necessary. Instead information from the ED should be collected and reviewed by the nurse, other intake screening data collected and the patient referred promptly to a provider. If not immediately, the provider should see these patients no more than a couple hours of their return to jail and the nurse should follow up to ensure that this takes place.

3. Not requesting health records of recent or ongoing treatment at intake may delay initiation of appropriate medical or mental health care. Examples of conditions where the previous treatment record should be requested include HIV disease, seizure disorder, heart disease and other acute or chronic conditions. Nurses are in the best position to get prior records; the patient is right there and can sign the consent forms and the nurse knows how to navigate the local health community. These records can be very important to the provider’s decisions about treatment. Many times the reason given for not requesting records is that the patient will be gone before the record arrives or that the patient’s information is so vague that tracking down the provider isn’t efficient use of time. Examining barriers to requesting previous records should be explored and efforts to eliminate or develop sources to get the information made. Making specific arrangements for transfer of information with specific providers who see a majority of the same population may reduce the time it takes to get information. Examples would be the state prison system and jails, major community based providers of indigent care, and the mental health system in the state or county. With the advent of electronic records, the timeliness to request and receive information is vastly improved.

Conclusion: Intake health screening is an activity unique to jails and prisons, that involves nurses’ collection and review of information about the health of every person admitted to the facility and nursing decisions about patients’ immediate needs for medical attention, ongoing treatment and protection from harm. It is a high risk, problem-prone aspect of correctional health care and should be regularly reviewed by the Quality Improvement Program and studied to identify opportunities to improve practices. This blog post described the findings from a chart audit that used just three criteria and only took a couple hours to complete. Six areas of possible improvement in nursing practice were identified. Further study to identify and eliminate barriers to best practices is the next step to an improved intake process.

What are the most common problems you have identified when monitoring the nurses’ role in intake or receiving screening? What barriers were addressed which improved intake screening practices? Please share your answers to these two questions by replying responding in the comments section of this post.

For more about the nurse’s role in intake or receiving screening see Chapter 14 Health Screening in our book the Essentials of Correctional Nursing. Order a copy directly from the publisher or from Amazon today!

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Is it time for a Change? If so, what’s next?

Occupation Job Careers Expertise Human Resources Concept

A friend of mine just sent an announcement for a position opening with the Washington Department of Corrections and asked if I would distribute it to prospective candidates. I said I would and so here it is-it is for the Director of Nursing a position responsible for standards of nursing practice at each of twelve prisons in the state of Washington. The prospect of recruiting for this position has made me think about who would be interested in a key leadership position like this? You may never have given it a thought and yet have many of the qualifications and expertise that are required.

The New Year is a time when many of us take stock of ourselves and make resolutions for the year ahead. Perhaps it would be a good time to consider your career plans as well? Human resource experts and job coaches recommend having a career map that identifies an individual’s career goal for the next three to five years. They also recommend reviewing and revising the map annually. Career planning gives nurses control over their own professional path and increases job satisfaction (Hall et al. 2004 and Chang et al. 2006). The steps to making a career plan are not complicated and each is described in the next several paragraphs.

  1. Understand yourself. Begin by assessing and listing out your strengths and weaknesses. What are the things you like to do and do well? How do you like to work and what types of work environments do you thrive in? Using myself as an example-I do best in environments where I can predict or anticipate to some extent what the day will be like and I like to work quietly and at a steady pace. The emergency room is not a place for me and I have the experience to know it! I also know that I like to work autonomously and don’t appreciate close supervision. It can be harder to identify weaknesses accurately. A suggestion is to think about this as the areas of practice that you want to develop expertise in. One way to help do this is to use a tool like the American Nurses Association Scope and Standards of Professional Practice for correctional nurses, which lists competencies for each of the standards.Finally describe in writing the kind of nursing practice you want to have three to five years from now. Some authors have suggested that nurses think too narrowly about their career options. As a correctional nurse you already are experienced finding jobs off the beaten path. Answer these questions: What do I want that is different in my career? What would I be responsible for? What kind of hours, days off and commute do I want? What type of boss, co-workers and team do I want? What type of organization and culture do I want to work in? Where do I want to live and what salary and benefits are wanted? Answering these kinds of questions helps to concretize your career goal and make it more specific to your needs and desires.
  2. Know the job market. Now that you have a more specific goal and description of your career goal for the next few years begin looking for organizations and positions that are available. Nearly all job opportunities are on line now so it is possible to research possibilities worldwide from the comfort of your home. The internet is also a source of information about organizations you may be interested in and professional associations provide valuable information about specialty areas of practice. One author suggested using You Tube as a resource to explore non-traditional careers in nursing. Identify organizations and professional associations that are recognized for an area of nursing practice that you are interested in pursuing and use these resources to identify potential mentors, professional contacts and learning opportunities. You should know the job market and professional landscape in the area of practice you are interested in even if you are not actively looking for another position at the moment. You may know someone who would be a good fit for the job or you may come across an opportunity to expand your knowledge or skills that you wouldn’t otherwise know about.
  3. Draw a map of the path to your goal. Start with your career goal and then lay out the steps to get there. The contacts and resources you developed in Step 2 can help you identify those steps. Perhaps you want to be the Chief Nursing Officer at a correctional facility or the whole state prison system as in the one Washington is recruiting for now. The recruitment announcement itself lists the types of experience they are looking for. Talk about your career goal with someone you consider a mentor and ask them to help you identify the steps that will build your knowledge, skills and experience. Many nurses are overly modest about their experience and fear failure when considering change. A mentor can help identify skills and experience you have already that with only modest enhancement would move you toward your goal. There are lots of resources on line about how to map a career, just type Career Map in the search line. Here is one resource and here is an example that University of Colorado Hospital developed for its nurses to show paths to various positions within the organization and the development resources available. A career map is really just a set of strategic steps to move from today toward the goal. Steps should identify ways to develop skills and competencies that were identified in step 1. A career map may include things like identifying a mentor or coach, taking classes, joining an organization, volunteering for certain experiences, applying for a position that provides experience necessary for the next professional position, getting certified in a specialty (like correctional nursing or nursing administration), and building a network of colleagues who know and support your career plan. By building the career map you may identify opportunities to grow in your current position that you were not aware of that will move you incrementally forward. Without a plan, professional growth and development is chaotic and may not contribute to your goal
  4. Focus and target opportunities. Now you have a clear picture of the type of professional practice you want to have in the near future and know the steps you are going to take to get there. You also are familiar with the field of organizations and professional associations and so as opportunities come up that are consistent with your map you are ready to take advantage of them to progress toward that goal. Even if you are perfectly happy today with what you are doing professionally having a career plan ensures that three years from now you are still as happy with your work.

What advice do you have for correctional nurses who are interested in career growth? Please share your advice by responding in the comments section of this post. Also the people in the Washington DOC would love to hear from you if you are interested in the position!

For more about management and leadership positions, as well as professional development in correctional nursing see Chapters 17 and 19 in our book the Essentials of Correctional Nursing. Order a copy directly from the publisher or from Amazon today! Happy New Year from both of us! Looking forward to new opportunities for all our blog post readers in the coming year!

References not hyperlinked in the blog post:

Chang P.L., Chou Y.C., Cheng F.C. Designing career development programs through understanding of nurses’ career needs. Journal of Nurses Staff Development 2006; 22 (5):246-253

Hall L.M., Waddell J., Donner G., Wheeler M.M. Outcomes of a career planning and development program for registered nurses. Nursing Economics 2004; 22 (5):231-238

Photo credit: © Rawpixel.com – Fotolia.com

Four Ways to Jumpstart Patient Safety Efforts

Runner is starting on the running trackPatient safety is an important core value of nursing practice so efforts to overcome barriers to preventing patient harm (like those discussed in a prior post) are worth our energy and attention. Sometimes getting quick results can reduce resistance to the changes needed to decrease clinical error. I’d like to suggest four ways to quickly move forward on improving patient safety in any setting.

Communication Systems

Communication breakdown has been the most frequently cited cause of clinical error so this is an excellent place to start.  If you are a leader, evaluate the various hand-off points in your primary care systems and work to tighten them up. Also take a good look at communication among disciplines, including your staff and officers. For example, are there conflicts and poor relationships that are getting in the way of smooth operations.

Human Factors Engineering

Human factors engineering (HFE) may be an unfamiliar term. It refers to developing systems that take into account human error by implementing safeguards or barriers to common human error points. HFE has reduced errors in other high-risk industries like nuclear power and space travel. Here are a few examples for health care:

  • Reducing reliance on memory with whiteboards or checklists for important care processes
  • Improving information access at the point of care such as easy availability of treatment protocols and drug information where care is delivered
  • Standardizing tasks so that all members of the team perform the task in the same way.

Patient Involvement

Involving patients in their care is not always a popular concept in the criminal justice system. However, if you are returning to your health care roots and centering on the patient, it makes sense to involve them in their care. Patients are able to assist in reaching an accurate diagnosis. Certainly the more  you are able to have an open and honest dialogue with your patient the more likely you will get accurate information to make a diagnosis. Patients can also provide feedback on effects and side effects of treatment. If your patient is engaged as an active member in the care team, he can speak up when something is amiss such as identifying when a treatment or medication is missing or different than expected.

You can also engage some members of your patient population in program improvement activities. For example, trusted patients or inmate councils can provide input into system changes that affect them. The inmate grievance process can also be used to improve patient safety if used to evaluate trends in complaints.

Mindfulness

The final recommendation is simple, yet difficult at the same time. Be continually mindful of patient safety when going about care tasks. Mindfulness is the increasing ability to experience being present with acceptance, attention and awareness. Attention and awareness to the potential for patient harm in everyday clinical situations can go a long way toward averting errors in practice. Just reading about patient safety is likely to increase your awareness but that can fade quickly if patient safety does not become part of the fabric of how health care is delivered in your setting.

Have you overcome barriers to implementing patient safety processes? Share your experiences in the comments section of this post.

Patient Safety – What’s Holding You Back?

Patient safety is a core concept to professional nursing practice. Indeed, we have an ethical responsibility to keep our patients from harm and to always seek their good. I discuss this in an earlier post. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just say – OK, patient safety is a great model – Let’s do it! Unfortunately, changing a mindset is difficult in any setting; maybe even more so in an entrenched correctional culture.

There are many reasons it can be challenging to embark on a serious journey toward a patient safety culture in a correctional setting. Here are the three frequent barriers to advancing a patient safety model that I found while working with health care leaders in jails and prisons. Would these be barriers in your facility?

Organizational Culture

An organization’s culture is the collection of norms of behaviors that are approved, allowed, or ignored. Culture determines what behaviors are rewarded and what behaviors are punished. Many work cultures in the criminal justice system are built on incivility and disrespect. These cultures are more likely to reward conforming and ‘by the book’ behaviors that rely on administrative controls rather than innovation and initiative. Leaders in this type of environment do not want to hear the ‘bad news’ of a possible safety issue and may marginalize those who try to make them aware of concerns that need addressed to avoid harm.

On the other hand, a patient safety culture builds on a culture of respect and is non-punitive in nature; valuing accountability, honesty, and mutual respect. This has been described as “allowing the boss to hear bad news”. A patient safety culture, then, requires open communication based on trust and positive regard, not always present in our hierarchical and para-military settings.

Broken Systems

Another common barrier to implementing a patient safety mindset is broken or absent systems. Health care, in and of itself, is a complex system of interactions of care providers, patients, diagnostics, equipment and environment. Correctional health care is all of that with an overlay of the criminal justice system and security structure. Not only is health care a complex system but also one that is constantly adapting to changing context and outcomes.

We are in a high-stakes profession where broken systems can mean loss – injury and death – as this case in a prior post illustrates.  Human error is inevitable. We must admit that and embrace it to move forward in designing our health care processes and systems to limit and avoid human error potential.

Nobody Cares

There are many more barriers to a patient safety perspective in corrections but I will close with just one more – Nobody Cares. Granted, there is good reason for developing an uncaring attitude toward our work and our patients. After all, it only takes being manipulated or duped by a patient to be on guard against that happening again. No one wants to be on the other end of deception or exploitation.

Even as healers, we can absorb a pervading “us against them” mentality in many of our settings. If cynicism does not harden our souls, maybe compassion fatigue or secondary traumatization from working with patients in such distressing life situations can zap energy and leave us focusing on merely performing tasks without really considering the people we care for. Layered upon this can be the challenges of dealing with uncivil or bullying peers. All of this can lead to a ‘why bother’ attitude toward our role in patient care and patient safety.

Yet, only clinicians thoughtfully considering their practice and environment will actually see and respond to potentially harmful situations. Only engaged practitioners will reflect on a patient situation to improve the care they provide.

Does this paint a hopeless picture regarding patient safety? I hope not! No matter what your position, you have an opportunity to make a difference and move the organization forward toward patient safety.

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together. – Vincent Van Gogh

What is a small step you could take toward a patient safety culture in your setting? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.