Kelley Johnson, Miss Colorado, delivered a unique monologue about being a nurse at the 2015 Miss America Pageant. In her two and a half minute presentation she explained how she was describing herself as ‘just a nurse’ to her patient Joe, an elderly man with Alzheimer disease. Joe finally shared his perspective that Kelley was not ‘just a nurse’ but a very valuable and effective healer in his life.
Every nurse can relate to Kelley’s presentation of our role in health care. Few nurses have never felt as she did – that we are ‘just a nurse’ and can’t do much in a particular situation. Yet, as her story reveals, JUST is an incorrect and misleading adjective to describe our role to our patients and to society.
I am especially struck by the danger of the word JUST in describing our role as correctional nurses. Our responsibility for our patient’s health and well-being goes beyond the boundaries of a specific nurse-patient relationship. The inmate population of our correctional setting is a patient community that requires the broad application of our nursing role. Here are three ways correctional nurses go beyond the conventional perspective of being ‘just a nurse’.
The increased burden of mental and physical disease in our patient population can strain the resources of correctional officer staff. Their perspective and training is, rightly, focused on public and personal safety. As a nurse, our viewpoint is holistic. We naturally see any situation as potentially caused by a health or wellness issue. Thus, what may appear to be a behavioral or discipline issue to our correctional colleague, is evaluated as a health need or treatment side effect. More than ‘just a nurse, correctional nurses can contribute knowledge and clinical judgment in a behavioral situation that can lead to a positive resolution.
Healthy Living Perspective
Correctional nurses frequently deliver care in the living areas of a facility. Traveling about the compound, we have opportunity to observe working and living conditions through the lens of healthcare. Cleanliness, containment, and the reduction of disease spread are inherent nursing principles. Nurses ‘see’ things that may go unnoticed by other professionals in the facility. The availability and use of handwashing resources is just one observation a correctional nurse may make while in the course of daily activities. Others might include inmate hygiene practices, cleanliness of recreational equipment, or the practices of inmate barbers and porters. Correctional nurses can address unhealthy living practices to improve the health of the larger patient community.
Abuse of power can easily result from situations where one group of people has control over the lives of another group. Although many correctional systems have an organizational culture that discourages and sanctions this abuse of power, just as many do not. Unfortunately, a significant portion of correctional settings are places of disrespect and incivility. Some, in fact, are even mentally or physically abusive of the inmate population. Correctional nurses have the opportunity, even the responsibility, to address issues of human dignity and patient safety in these situations. Our ethical code calls us to make every effort to protect our patients from mental and physical harm.
Falling under the spell of the adjective J-U-S-T in describing correctional nursing practice is dangerous to our understanding of our role and to the health and well-being of our vulnerable and marginalized patient population. Join me in eliminating this 4-letter word from our self-talk and our practice perspective.
Have you ever been called upon to be more than ‘just a nurse’ in your correctional practice? Share your story in the comments section of this post.