The first examination of the qualities of professional practice in correctional nursing was done recently in Ontario, Canada. Conclusions from the surveys and interviews of 297 nurses and nurse managers were that the work environment was characterized as understaffed with significant role overload. These nurses also reported limited access to resources, significant autonomy but limited control over practice and experienced significantly higher levels of emotional abuse, conflict and bullying than nurses in other studies. The source of emotional abuse, conflict and bullying most often originated from custody staff followed by other nursing staff (Almost et.al. 2013a). These results support earlier publications about the practice challenges in correctional nursing including limited access to resources and education (Flanagan and Flanagan 2001, Maroney 2005, Smith 2005) , pressure to conform to the values of the custodial subculture (Holmes 2005), and challenges to clinical decision making authority (Smith 2005, Weiskopf 2005).
Reasons to improve the quality of the work environment include the ability to attract and retain nurses, increased productivity, improved organizational performance and better patient outcomes (Almost et.al 2013a, Sherman & Pross 2010, Dall et.al 2009, Needleman et.al 2006). Focusing on improving the professional work environment yields significant results even in the absence of increased staffing (Flynn et.al 2012, Aiken et.al. 2011, Friese et.al. 2008).
The following paragraphs discuss five factors in work environments that can be modified or enhanced to support professional nursing practice.
- Control over practice
- Accurate interpretation and clarification of the state nurse practice act and its guidance in job descriptions, work assignments and policies and procedures (Knox, West, Pinney & Blair 2014, White & O’Sullivan 2012). Workplace directives should also incorporate or reference relevant aspects of the ANA standards of professional practice for correctional nurses (Knox & Schoenly 2014).
- Work flow should be examined so that barriers to effective practice can be eliminated including system gaps that increase work complexity and work that is not related to patient care (Knox, West, Pinney & Blair 2014, Ebright 2010, Schoenly 2013). An example of the former is locating supplies used for nursing treatments in multiple locations. An example of the later is when nurses are expected to gather and report data on service volume or for quality assurance audits (number of sick call visits, number of clinic appointments, and number of incomplete MARs etc.).
- Increase nursing participation on committees such as pharmacy and therapeutics, morbidity and mortality review, mental health, utilization review, and medical administration (Aiken et. al. 2011, Flynn et. al. 2012, Almost et.al. 2013a). Staff meetings also should be reviewed to see if meaningful two way dialogue can be increased to involve nurses in identification and early resolution of practice problems.
- Consider assignment models that emphasize use of nursing process and clinical judgment rather than task completion; where registered nurses provide a greater proportion of direct care themselves while actively supervising care delegated to others (Corrazini et.al 2013a; MacMurdo, Thorpe & Morgan 2013). Staffing takes thoughtful preparation and legacy staffing practices may no longer work as complexity in health care delivery increases (Knox, West, Pinney & Blair 2013, Ebright 2010, MacMurdo, Thorpe & Morgan 2013).
- Autonomy in clinical practice
- Considered one of the hallmarks of correctional nursing it is also an Achilles heel in the absence of appropriate clinical guidelines and support in their use (ANA 2013, Smith 2013, Smith 2005). Protocols should be based upon nursing process and coordination of care rather than reaching a medical diagnoses and rushing to treatment conclusions.
- Nurses must be appropriately qualified and experienced in assessment and clinical reasoning as well as skilled in surveillance related to the variety of clinical situations encountered in the correctional setting to use protocols.
- Provide access to information and tools that enhances recognition of clinical patterns and deviations necessary for good clinical judgment (Ebright 2010).
- Assist nurses to prioritize and coordinate care with daily briefings, debriefings, huddles and work flow tracking to provide real time information about the availability and assignments of other members of the health care team (including primary care and mental health staff).
- Positive workplace relationships
- Establish clear expectations for a respectful workplace in policy, procedure and other written directive. These instructions should define behaviors consistent and inconsistent with professional behavior in the workplace; describe what to do in the presence of unprofessional behavior and how to report these incidents (Almost et.al. 2013a).
- Joint meetings and interdisciplinary training can be the vehicle to demonstrate support for the goals of both health care and custody (Almost et.al. 2013a, Weiskopf 2005).
- Nurses may benefit from additional development in the area of conflict resolution because they have such a prominent role negotiating coordination of patient care with custody operations (Schoenly 2013, Weiskopf 2005).
- Increase communication about patient care between registered nurses and LPN/LVNs (Corrazini et. al. 2013).
- Support education and certification
- Orientation also needs to be tailored to the needs of each individual based upon education, licensure and an assessment of competency (Knox, West, Pinney & Blair 2014; Shelton, Weiskopf & Nicholson 2010). The ANA scope and standards of professional practice should also be incorporated into new employee orientation so that nurses develop institution specific skills consistent with the expectation of the professional discipline (Knox & Schoenly 2014).
- Mentoring and coaching of new employees should be emphasized in development of expertise in clinical reasoning (Schoenly 2013, Ebright 2010).
- Use creative, simple approaches to continuing education including self-study, reflective exercises, on-line web based seminars, facilitated case review and discussion, and a journal club (Almost et.al. 2013b, Schoenly 2013). Staff with superior knowledge and skill in a subject area can be asked to assist in developing relevant continuing education material (Knox, West, Pinney & Blair 2014).
- Certification in correctional nursing is available through both the American Corrections Association and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care. These exams are offered regionally and can be administered at the place of employment if there are enough people taking the exam.
- Adequate resources
- Includes staffing, equipment and supplies as well as access to leadership. Examining the work of first line managers may reveal sources of role overload (scheduling, meetings, payroll data gathering etc.) that impede their availability to line staff and can be reassigned to increase the availability of clinical leadership to line staff(Almost et.al. 2013a).
- Review legacy staffing practices and work flow to identify opportunities to adjust assignments that result in more appropriate or effective use of existing resources (Knox, West, Pinney & Blair 2013, Ebright 2010).
- Involve nurses in evaluation of equipment and technology decisions to prevent acquisition of products that complicate rather than improve delivery of patient care (Ebright 2010). For example decisions about how patient specific prescriptions were packaged have impacted timeliness and accuracy of medication administration in some correctional facilities because the packaging was cumbersome and time consuming for nurses to use.
Conclusion: Attention to the work environment of nurses (control over nursing practice, autonomy without isolation, positive working relationships, support for education and specialty certification, and adequate resources) has a profound effect on nursing practice, the ability to recruit and retain nursing personnel and on patient outcomes. More resources about work environments that support professional nursing practice can be found at the sites listed in the resources section below.
What do you think can be done to improve the professional practice work environment for correctional nurses? Are there resources or solutions not discussed here that should be? Please share your opinions by responding in the comments section of this post.
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Aiken, L.H., Cimiotti, J.P., Sloane, D.M., Smith, H.L., Flynn, L., Neff, D.F. (2011) Effects of nurse staffing and nurse education on patient deaths in hospitals with different nurse work environments. Medical Care 49(12): 1047-1053.
Almost, J., Doran, D., Ogilvie, L., Miller, C., Kennedy, S., Timmings, C., Rose, D.N., Squires, M., Lee, C., Bookey-Bassett, S. (2013a) Exploring work-life issues in provincial corrections settings. Journal of Forensic Nursing 9:1
Almost, J., Gifford, W.A., Doran, D., Ogilvie, L., Miller, C., Rose, D.N., Squires, M. (2013 b) Correctional nursing: a study protocol to develop an educational intervention to optimize nursing practice in a unique context. Implementation Science 8:71
American Nurses Association. (2013) Correctional Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice. Silver Spring, MD: Nursebooks.org
Corrazzini, K.N.; Anderson, R.A.; Mueller, C.; Hunt-McKinney, S.; Day, L.; Porter, K. (2013). Understanding RN and LPN Patterns of Practice in Nursing Homes. Journal of Nursing Regulation. 4(1); 14-18.
Dall, T.M., Chen, Y.J., Seifert, R.F., Maddox, P.J., Hogan, P.F. (2009). The economic value of professional nursing. Medical Care 47 (1):97-104.
Ebright, P.R. (2010). The complex work of RNs: Implications for a healthy work environment. Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. 15(1).
Flanagan, N. & Flanagan, T. (2001) Correctional nurses’ perceptions of their role, training requirements and prisoner health care needs. The Journal of Correctional Health Care 8:67-85.
Flynn, L., Liang, Y., Dickson, G., Xie, M., Suh, D.C. (2012) Nurse’s practice environments, error interception practices, and inpatient medication errors. The Journal of Nursing Scholarship. 44(2):180-186.
Friese, C.R., Lake, E.T., Aiken, L.H., Silber, J.H., Sochalski, J. (2008) Hospital nurse practice environments and outcomes for surgical oncology patients. Health Services Research. 43(4): 1145-1162.
Holmes, D. (2005) Governing the captives: Forensic psychiatric nursing in corrections. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care 41(1):3-13.
Knox, C.M., Schoenly, L. (2014) Correctional nursing: A new scope and standards of practice. Correct Care, 28 (1) 12-14.
Knox, C.M., West, K., Pinney, B., Blair, P. (2014) Work environments that support professional nursing practice. Presentation at Spring Conference on Correctional Health Care, National Commission on Correctional Health Care. April 8, 2014. Nashville, TN.
MacMurdo, V., Thorpe, G., & Morgan, R. (2013) Partners in practice: Engaging front-line nursing staff as change agents. Presentation at Custody & Caring, 13th Biennial International Conference on the Nurse’s Role in the criminal Justice System. October 2-4, 2013. Saskatoon, SK.
Maroney, M.K. (2005) Caring and custody: Two faces of the same reality. Journal of Correctional Health Care. 11:157-169.
Needleman, J., Buerhaus, P.I., Stewart, M., Zelevinsky, K. Matke, S. (2006) Nurse staffing in hospitals: Is there a business case for quality? Health Affairs. 25(1):204-211.
Shelton, D., Weiskopf, C., Nicholson, M. (2010). Correctional Nursing Competency Development in the Connecticut Correctional Managed Health Care Program. Journal of Correctional Health Care. 16 (4). 38-47.
Sherman, R. & Pross, E. (2010) Growing future nurse leaders to build and sustain healthy work environments. Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. 15(1).
Schoenly, L. (2013) Management and Leadership. In Schoenly, L., & Knox, C. (Ed.) Essentials of Correctional Nursing. New York: Springer.
Smith, S. (2013) Nursing Sick Call. In Schoenly, L., & Knox, C. (Ed.) Essentials of Correctional Nursing. New York: Springer.
Smith, S. (2005) Stepping through the looking glass: Professional autonomy in correctional nursing. Corrections Today 67(1):54-56.
Weiskopf, C.S. (2005) Nurse’s experience of caring for inmate patients. Journal of Advanced Nursing 49(4):336-343.
White, K. & O’Sullivan, A. (2012). The Essential Guide to Nursing Practice: Applying ANAs Scope and Standards in Practice and Education. American Nurses Association. Silver Springs, MD: Nursebooks.org.
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