This guest post by Benjamin S Kanten, MBA, MSN, RN, CCHP-RN, is taken from his submission to the 2013 Correctional Nursing Celebration Essay Contest.
Correctional nurses are sometimes viewed as cool, callous, uncaring, or insensitive to the health needs of patients. The image of Nurse Ratchet might come to mind for some. And there are those in this specialty who have fairly earned such a reputation. Is that any different than any other area of nursing practice? We can all think of a nurse (or many) we have encountered who lacks empathy, compassion, and sensitivity to patients’ needs. On the whole, though, correctional nurses care just as much as nurses in any other setting. Being a successful correctional nurse requires that we live out Watson’s theory on caring every day. Doing anything else would place our patients, and us, at risk.
Correctional nurses must develop the trust of their patients. It is often said in corrections that you must do what you say. If you do not, you will fail to get the trust of your patients and you will not be able to effect individual change or help the population you serve. By being reliable, saying what you will do and then following through, being forthright with patients about what is possible and what is not, the correctional nurse begins to develop rapport and trust in patients. With time, this trust will move beyond the individuals and towards being seen “on the yard” as the nurse who is honest and can be trusted with sensitive matters.
Correctional nurses inspire hope in their patients. Through education and health promotion, we inspire our patients to look towards the future, developing realistic goals for themselves such as weight loss, changing diet selections, implementing an exercise regimen, or becoming familiar with seizure triggers. Though some of these changes are small, such self-care measures empower patients to take control of their health and thus begin to change the path they are on. For some patients in corrections, this may be the first ray of sunshine they experience and can enable them to make other life changes such as moving away from criminality and towards reintegration into mainstream society.
Correctional nurses help patients meet the myriad of human needs. For nurses in short-term detention centers, the focus may be more on meeting the patient’s lower level needs for safety, security, and survival. In all settings, correctional nurses work to meet these needs. We help ensure that the facility provides a safe environment by securing sharps, keeping infections from spreading, secluding mentally ill and violent patients, participating on health committees, and more. In longer-term detention, nurses have the opportunity to address higher-level needs after establishing trust by meeting lower level needs. Nurses can then begin to help patients move towards personal growth. Correctional nurses empower patients to engage in self-improvement such as vocational training, group therapy, reduction of criminal thinking, development of healthy coping strategies, and much more. The correctional nurse works to ensure that the patient is healthy enough to participate in rehabilitation, but also helps inspire the patient to want to participate in the process.
These are but a handful of the ways correctional nurses practice Watson’s caring theory on a daily basis. Correctional nurses are first and foremost nurses, caring individuals committed to the wellbeing of others. The fact that they practice behind bars does not change the fundamental nature of their character and profession. Let us remember that correctional nurses are present with people in their darkest hours, holding forth the lamp of knowledge and let us spread the positive work about our caring specialty practice.
Benjamin Kanten began his correctional nursing career in 2004 as a staff nurse with the Federal Bureau of Prison. He spent the next six years working as a nurse, infection control officer, and quality improvement officer at the Federal Correctional Institution at Bastrop, Texas. In 2010 he transferred to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Health Service Corp clinic at Taylor, Texas. After two years as a staff nurse, he assumed the position of nurse manager at that facility in 2012.
Read more about caring in correctional nursing practice in Chapter 2: Ethical Principles for Correctional Nursing from Essentials of Correctional Nursing. Order your copy directly from the publisher. Use promotional code AF1209 for $15 off and free shipping.
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