Professionalism in Correctional Nursing

Professionalism in correctional nursing is the provision of quality care while upholding the principles of accountability, respect, and integrity. It includes your interactions with patients and with your nursing and custody colleagues. The Correctional Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice (American Nurses Association, 2020) articulates seven guiding principles for Correctional Nursing practice that support Correctional Nursing professionalism.

Principle 1: The core of correctional nursing practice is patient-centered care. Implicit in this principle is respect for the diversity and dignity of all persons. Keeping the patient as our focus while we abide by security regulations and consider the potential safety issues of our practice environment may be challenging at times, but we must always remember that we are the patients’ advocate. That is where our understanding of the patient’s goal, our creativity, and our negotiation skills are needed.

Principle 2: The nursing process is fundamental to correctional nursing practice. We use it to provide individualized care for our patients, and critical thinking is at the center of our actions. Critical thinking is not something we are born with, but rather a skill that can be developed with training and practice. Activities that promote critical thinking skills include discussing case studies in your monthly staff meetings. Asking questions like “what if…” will promote expanded thinking and the ability to transfer the learning from one situation to another.

Principle 2 also states that correctional nurses should use evidence-based knowledge to assess, develop nursing diagnoses, identify outcomes, plan, implement and evaluate nursing care. Our interventions should produce beneficial results, and we should be evaluating our patients’ response to the interventions to ensure that they do.

Principle 3: Professional nurses know their correctional role. Although there are some justice systems where nursing staff are also considered part of the custody staff, correctional nurses must recognize that our primary role is the delivery of nursing services. Correctional nurses demonstrate excellence in clinical practice through implementation of the nursing process, through strong assessment skills, and by demonstrating clinical competence based upon principles of evidence-based practice.

Principle 4: Correctional nurses recognize the value of teamwork and collaboration by establishing partnerships. Interaction and collaboration with custody staff can lead to a clean, safe, and secure environment for all. This has certainly become more apparent as we address the COVID-19 pandemic. Many facilities were able to implement programs for screening and isolation quickly because nursing staff shared their knowledge and training in infection control. Correctional nurses should also share their knowledge and expertise by volunteering for committees and collaborating with mental health staff, dietary staff, outside providers, and community resources for their patients who are being released.

Principle 5: A strong link exists between the professional work environment and the correctional nurse’s ability to provide quality care and achieve optimal outcomes for their patients. Correctional nurses know that their practice obligations do not change or diminish because of the environment in which they practice. Correctional nurses have a duty to not only maintain, but improve, health care practices. They should avoid cynicism and foster a healthy work environment at all times.

Principle 6: Correctional nurses promote quality patient care. Correctional nurse practice is guided by the nurse administrators and leaders who support and foster professional and personal development. This may be through continuing education opportunities, including those held on-site. These opportunities do not have to be complex, but they should be thoughtful and goal oriented. Managers should monitor their staff’s practice, ascertain their strengths and areas of opportunity, and support their professional development. By doing so, the care of all patients is improved.

Principle 6 also states that correctional nurse managers should promote certification and participation in professional organizations. Correctional nursing certification is available through the National Commission on Correctional Health Care. Correctional nurse managers and leaders should become certified and should encourage their staff to do the same. Correctional nurses also have a national professional organization – The American Correctional Nurses Association – that is doing great work to give our correctional nursing specialty recognition and a voice in the greater nursing community. Membership is open to correctional nurses of all licensures – LPNs, RNs, and APRNs, which enhances its ability to be the voice of all correctional nurses.

Principle 7: Correctional Nurses demonstrate compassion and caring within secure facilities. the correctional nurse uses truthful and respectful communications with patients and colleagues. They use intentional and non-judgmental listening during patient encounters, and they also use active listening skills. Correctional nurses provide age-appropriate and culturally competent care. Correctional nurses use strategies for self-awareness and use moral actions to transform the intent to do the right thing into reality. Sometimes this takes a group effort and the ability to discuss shared experiences; sometimes it takes moral courage!

Following these principles and the Correctional Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice will ensure that you provide quality care while practicing with professionalism.

Author Lori Roscoe, DNP, PhD, APRN, CCHP-RN, is the Accredited Provider Program Director for NCCHC, co-chair of the NCCHC Nursing Education Subcommittee, and a member of NCCHC’s Multi-Disciplinary Education Committee. Through her companies, The Correctional Nurse LLC and Correctional HealthCare Consultants LLC, Dr. Roscoe provides accredited continuing education specialized for correctional nurses and maintains CorrectionalNurse.Net, a blog about correctional nursing practice, and offers professional consulting services in correctional healthcare operations, staff training and legal matters.