Remembering Meaningful Milestones

ncchc-40th-celebrationThe National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) held its national conference in Las Vegas last week (October 24th through the 26th).  For the over 1600 attendees, it was a recognition of the profession of correctional health care and the path from the beginning to present day.

40 Years of Educational Offerings

For 40 years, NCCHC has been offering educational opportunities during four educational sessions each year. Edward Harrison CCHP, former NCCHC president was at this conference to bestow some awards and meet friends. His words reflect some of the highlights accomplished along the way.

  • Correctional health care providers were caregivers for AIDS patients before the disease had a name and before many in community health care settings overcame their fear of the disease.
  • Although decades ago telemedicine was widely promoted throughout the country, it advanced in correctional health settings more so than in many community environments.
  • Treating sexually transmitted and other infectious diseases in the community often relies on the interventions provided patients in the correctional system .
  • Correctional systems picked up the slack when community mental health programs lost their funding.
  • Health care for all, regardless of one’s ability to pay, was the established practice in corrections 30 years before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

During the conference the foundation of correctional health and the early leaders were recognized.  To add to our recognitions, nothing is more noteworthy than our next celebrated milestone.

Estelle vs Gamble- 40 Years Ago

The 40 year milestone of this court case, which is considered the basis for correctional healthcare, forces us to reflect on the advancement of quality care that today is provided across the country to all our detainees. This court case forced everyone to look at care in the jails and prisons across the country and build health care delivery systems that were comprised of qualified health professionals, identified illness, treated disease and prevented harm and suffering.

Estelle vs Gamble is a case brought forward by a prisoner in Texas in 1976. Even though the state “lost” the case, the decisions by the courts provided the foundation for care of all prisoners and the basis of deliberate indifference. During initial orientation, each new employee in correctional health care hears about Estelle vs Gamble and learns that detainees have:

  • The right to access health care in all settings.
  • The right to a professional medical opinion
  • The right to the care that is ordered.

The first standard in the NCCHC’s Accreditation Standards is “Access to Care”. The discussion states that “this standard intends to ensure that inmates have access to care to meet their serious health needs and is the principle on which all National Commission on Correctional Health Care standards are based. It is also the basic principle established by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1976 landmark case Estelle v. Gamble.” (A-01, 2014 standards, page 3)

Remembering the foundations of correctional health, will provide us with a vision that expands the quality of health care and integrates us into the communities in which we practice.

Certified Correctional Health Professional (CCHP) for 25 Years

The third celebration was to honor the 25 years that the special certification for correctional health professional has been in place. Before 1991, a group of correctional health leaders, worked to develop a test that would reflect the unique challenges and foundation upon which correctional health is practiced across the country. Other health care specialties already had in place specific  certifications, such as ICU nurses, emergency nurses, IV nurses and some mental health specialties. These certifications recognize the knowledge base and competencies required in a specific field or specialty area of practice.

The first CCHP exam was in 1991 and was a take home exam with multiple choice and essay questions. At the conference, we honored 17 CCHP’s who completed the test in 1991 and are still certified today.

As the years have progressed, the test has expanded to a proctored exam at various conferences and sites.  Also other exams for specialties within correctional health have been developed. After you obtain your CCHP certification you may add to your credentials by taking a specialty exam. These include the CCHP-RN, CCHP-Physician, CCHP-Mental Health and CCHP-Advanced.  Achieving professional certification is the surest way to demonstrate that you have the qualifications and expertise to meet the challenges of delivering correctional health care in any setting.

As we go through our daily work, it is good to take time to reflect on how we achieved this proud and important professional career, and all the people who came before us and showed the dedication and leadership to improve care and show us the way.

Do have a reflection on the history of correctional health care that you would like to share? Please reply in the comments sections of this post.

Read more about legal foundations of correctional health care and the professional organizations that support correctional nursing in our book the Essentials of Correctional Nursing. Order a copy directly from the publisher or from Amazon today!

Photo Credit: NCCHC,org, education and conferences link

Correctional Nurse Goals for 2015: Get Certified!

Hand underlining 2015 Goals with red marker, business conceptWhat, you say? Take an exam in 2015? Do I really want to do that? Are these questions running through your mind at the idea of getting a certification this year? Here are some thoughts on why you should consider becoming certified in your specialty this year.

I Have a Nursing License Already

You might be asking yourself – why do I need certification when I have a nursing license? Licensure is definitely required to provide our level of health care. It is a governmental requirement for practice that protects the public from incompetent practitioners. Specific educational requirements, such as the amount of practical hours of training, are often a part of the State Practice Acts governing entry level into the profession.

Certification, on the other hand, is voluntary, non-governmental, and not required to enter into nursing practice. It recognizes an individual’s advanced knowledge and skill beyond initial licensure. Most certification programs require a minimum number of hours of practice in the specialty along with a written certification exam.

Worth the Effort?

Is there value to all the effort it will take to gain certification? The American Board of Nursing Specialties completed research in this area and found these 5 components of certification value. Which ones resonate with your professional values?

Professional Recognition: Probably first and foremost is professional recognition among employers, peers, and consumers. Certification denotes a proven knowledge base and documented experience in a given specialty. I experienced this myself as a consumer this past year when my husband prepared for a total hip replacement. The orthopaedic surgeon looked young to me…a problem I have a lot these days as I am getting older (!). While in the waiting room for the consultation visit, I was contemplating asking that uncomfortable question about how many surgeries of this type he had completed. However, just in time, my eyes fell on a framed certificate of board certification with the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. That was comforting…as was our conversation with him shortly afterwards where he explained the procedure and volunteered his frequency of performing it. By the way, my husband is doing very well after the surgery and we are very happy with the results.

Professional Credibility: Credibility is another component of certification value. This was important to me when I became a correctional nurse educator 10 years ago. If I was going to be orienting and educating nurses in the specialty, they needed to know that what I was saying was credible and that I knew what I was talking about. One way to do this is through certification. I started on my journey to the basic CCHP certification the first year I was a correctional nurse. Actually, I brought others along with me by starting certification study groups in any facility with interest. We had over 20 people sit for the certification exam after we all studied together. It was exhilarating and I recommend this as an idea for you. Start a study group in your facility and go through the process together.

Sense of Accomplishment: It is easy to see how you would have a sense of accomplishment through successful completion of a specialty certification exam. It can be hard work and you deserve congratulations at the finish line.

Knowledge Validation: Certification validates basic knowledge for the particular specialty – above and beyond initial general professional knowledge.

Marketability: All these outcomes also mean marketability. Certification means you will stand out in a crowd of resumes vying for a particular position. It not only speaks to your knowledge but to your motivation and perseverance in the specialty. Someone who is only passing through is not going to bother with certification. Someone who is not interested in their career is not going to get certified. Someone who is not willing to diligently pursue excellence is not going to be certified. You get the picture. Certification says you are someone who is motivated to do a good job in our specialty.

I hope I have convinced you to consider certification in correctional nursing in 2015. Here are some earlier posts that can help you create an action plan to prepare for certification:

Correctional Nurse Certification Options

The Certification Journey #1: Where Do We Start?

The Certification Journey #2: Determining What to Study

The Certification Journey #3: Creating a Study Plan

The Certification Journey #4: Rule the Day

What do you think about professional certification? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

Photo Credit: © dizain –

Certification Journey: Rule the Day

Scantron TEST blocks and pencil.After weeks and months of planning and study, the exam day finally arrives. Now is the time to focus your mind and do your best. Exam day came for me just last Saturday, January 26, 2013. I had some challenges following the study plan I had created for myself, but tried to keep positive about my knowledge and background to be successful on exam morning. Staying calm and positive is important when taking an exam. Anxiety can block thinking and thwart efforts.

The day before the exam I located the exam room. It was a bit of a walk from the convention center entrance to the room and I was glad I took the time to look for it. Although that worked out well, my breakfast plans did not. It wasn’t until Saturday morning that I discovered that breakfast is served later on the weekends at my hotel so I had to arrive at the convention center without the hearty breakfast I had expected. Fortunately Starbucks opened in time for me to enjoy a yogurt parfait and a Grande Latte before heading to the room.

The CCN/M certification exam consists of 200 questions that include multiple choice and true/false formats. They allow 4 hours to take the test. That is about 50 questions per hour, so you need to pace yourself. A watch would have been helpful. We had to shut off our cell phones so I didn’t really know what time it was. I’m usually a fast test taker so I wasn’t concerned about running out of time.

Knowing your test-taking personality is an important part of successful certification. Here are seven personalities to consider. Which one are you?

Rusher– Rushes to complete the test before they forget everything

Turtle– Repeatedly rereads, underlines, and checks answers

Personalizer– Relies heavily on own background and experience

Squisher– Preoccupied with grades and personal accomplishment

Philosopher– Searches questions for hidden or unintended meaning

Second Guesser– Frequently changes initial responses

Lawyer– Attempts to place words or ideas into the question

Turns out I am a philosopher test-taker so I needed to be careful not to get tied up over-thinking the questions. In fact, by the time I was done answering 200 questions, I was rather unsure of myself leaving the room on Saturday morning. Did I answer enough questions correctly?

One of the toughest parts of certification can be the waiting after completing the test. Fortunately, more and more certification programs have speedy responses. Six days after exam day I received an email from the certification director. I PASSED!

I hope sharing my certification journey has been an encouragement to you to obtain certification in correctional nursing. If you are considering certification, read this blog post on your certification option.

Preparing for the CCHP-RN or CCN/M Certification Exams? Order your copy of Essentials of Correctional Nursing directly from the publisher. Use Promo Code AF1209  for $15 off and free shipping.

Photo Credit: © mybaitshop –

Certification Journey: Creating a Study Plan

Now that I have committed to taking the CCN/M certification exam and determined what I need to study, the next step is creating a study plan. Like any project, successfully completing certification takes time and effort. The date of the exam gives me the due date for this project. Now I need to chart a course to reach that destination ready to pass the test. Having certifications in six different specialties over the course of 25 career years, I have done my share of exam prep. Here are my key strategies to prepare for exam day.

Get Your MoJo

2012-12-06_11-03-58_11I have to really want to do this to succeed. Studying is hard work; even harder when you get into my age range! If I do not have a good reason to take this exam, I will not focus on my study plan. Writing out a list of reasons why this is an important project and posting it somewhere handy can help. Here is my WHY list in eye-view from my desk top.

Claim Free Time

Earlier this year I read the book 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. It helped me realize where I could more effectively use my time. Which exam study in mind, I’m looking for where I can switch out ineffective time use with study time. Everyone has 168 hours in the week. It is how we use our hours that is important. Even with 40 hours of work and 40 hours of sleep a week, there are still plenty of hours left for exam study. After an analysis of my current time use and my energy levels, I decided on 3-5pm on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday for my study schedule.  That is 6 hours per week for the next 6 weeks (accounting for the Christmas/New Year week off for festivities).

Find Your Study Personality

Knowing how best to absorb and retain needed information is both and art and a science. The art part comes in knowing yourself. Do you concentrate best in total quiet or do you need background music? Are you better studying in small chunks of time or to you need a concentrated block to zone-in on the information? Do you absorb information better in the morning, afternoon, or evening? By understanding your study personality, you will be more effective in the time you take to prepare for an exam. I am best in the morning and worst in the evening but I save my morning hours for writing so I am going to make the best of my exam study in the afternoon. From my writing experiences, I know I concentrate best with classical music in the background. In addition, I need to be away from my desk and computer, if at all possible, as they easily distract me. My reading chair will be my study spot.

Plot Your End Game

The final part of a study plan is planning for the exam day. I want to be sure I am organized and well-rested to reduce as much stress as possible. The exam starts very early on Saturday morning so I have arranged to arrive in town early the day before to be able to find my way around, locate the exam room, and plot my morning – including where to get a good breakfast. I am keeping a folder with all the exam day materials such as the entrance pass. I will be sure to pack my pencils with erasers. I will also pack comfortable clothing that is in layers so I can adjust to the room temperature.

I’ll be using these strategies to prepare for exam day in Houston on Saturday, January 26, 2013. If you are also planning to be at the ACA Winter Conference, be sure to let us know by emailing We’ll arrange a meet-up!

Preparing for the CCHP-RN or CCN/M Certification Exams? Order your copy of Essentials of Correctional Nursing directly from the publisher. Use Promo Code AF1209  for $15 off and free shipping.

Photo Credit: © vectomart –

Certification Journey: Determining What to Study

In an earlier blog post I discussed certification options for correctional nurses. Both Catherine and I are CCHP-RN certified through the National Commission on Correctional Health Care. We are pursuing CCN/M certification through the American Corrections Association (ACA) and will be sitting for the exam at the 2013 Winter Conference (Be sure to let us know if you will be there so we can meet!).

Now that I have completed the CCN/M certification registration and set an exam date, it is time to decide what to study. Every certification exam has an outline of content, sometimes called a test blueprint, that is used to determine the subject areas for evaluation. This blueprint also determines the amount of questions that will address the various subjects. A test blueprint is a good starting point for determining what to study for an exam. Many certification bodies publish their test blueprint in a public document. The CCN/M test blueprint is a private document provided only to accepted test applicants, once they have registered. However, a Certification Handbook with some preliminary information is available online.

The following general list of exam components was located on the ACA website:

  • Health Care in Corrections
  • Legal Issues in Corrections
  • Mental Health
  • Nursing Practice and Standards
  • Managing Security and Environment
  • General and Offender Management
  • Conflict Management
  • Human Resource Management

This general list is a good place to start. In addition, the ACA provides study materials in the online bookstore. However, we are testing out the ability to use our book, Essentials of Correctional Nursing, to serve as a study book for the certification exam, so I will only be using that text for my study materials.

Now I have one more thing to do to have everything I need to create a study plan. I need to prioritize the exam content so I spend the most time studying the material least familiar to me. Looking at the list above, here is my priority list with the top items requiring the most study time:

  • General and Offender Management
  • Legal Issues in Corrections
  • Mental Health
  • Human Resource Management
  • Managing Security and Environment
  • Health Care in Corrections
  • Nursing Practice and Standards
  • Conflict Management

Now I have everything I need to create a study plan:

  • Prioritized exam content
  • Selected study materials
  • Deadline for study completion

In my next certification journey post, I’ll tell you how I set up my study plan.

Preparing for the CCHP-RN or CCN/M Certification Exams? Order your copy of Essentials of Correctional Nursing directly from the publisher. Use Promo Code AF1209  for $15 off and free shipping.

Photo Credit: © Oxlock –

The Certification Journey: Where Do We Start?

Seeking certification in correctional nursing is an important step in a nursing career. Like any big endeavor, it requires planning and perseverance to succeed. Reaching this goal is similar to a marathon, rather than a sprint. Catherine and I have both completed certification through NCCHC as Certified Correctional Health Professionals (CCHP). We also both participated on the taskforce that created the CCHP-RN specialty exam so we know a bit about what it takes to become certified in a specialty. Now we are going to seek certification through the American Correctional Association (ACA) as Certified Correctional Nurse/Manager (CCN/M). We’ll take you along on the journey as we blog about our experiences. Since we’ll be using all our tips from our NCCHC Certification, you can use this information for either certification you select.
Step 1: Determine Eligibility
Each certification has eligibility standard for applicants (see prior post). Carefully read the eligibility requirements and compare them to your background. NCCHC’s requirements are more stringent and align with American Nurses Association standards for nurse certification. Because the ACA certification is specific to managers, it requires at least one year of management experience. Looks like Catherine and I are qualified to move to the next step.
Step 2: Determine Test Date and Location
The testing date at an acceptable location will determine the study schedule. We will work backward from the exam date to plan our preparation. Both NCCHC and ACA hold regional exam dates and include exams with their conferences. The regional exam sites for CCN/M in 2012 are in inconvenient locations, so we’ll set our plan for the ACA Winter Conference, January 25-30, 2013 in Houston, TX. This gives us about 6 months to study. If this is your first certification exam or you are fairly new to corrections, you may want to extend your preparation out longer.
Step 3: Make Application
Now that eligibility and test date have been determined, it is time for us to complete the application for certification. Some applications can require eligibility documents such as copies of license, transcripts, or references validating required work experience. In the case of the CCN/M, an honor system is used to validate professional requirements.

OK, we are starting our certification journey. Want to join us? Follow these three steps to get started and I’ll be back later with our next steps in the process – Creating a Study Plan.

If you are joining this journey or have ideas about certification preparation, share in the comments section of this post.

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