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Correctional Nursing In Australia
Now we get A LOT of questions about correctional nursing and working in a gaol! This makes sense because it’s so intriguing and hidden and hence why we wanted to work there in the first place… something so different and unique!
Both Jess & I (Xana) (Brand Ambassadors) actually met working with HCA in a goal so we like to say we met in gaol. Within a correctional facility, there are the nurses, officers, doctors, ERT (emergency response team), dog squad, and much more! It takes a village for it to run, but it is so important to all work together in that environment because it can be very difficult at times. I think the biggest takehome I got from working in a correctional facility is to treat everyone with kindness and respect. I think a large number of people would think, “why should I treat them well when they are criminals” but you have ABSOLUTELY no idea the life they have had and why they ended up there, so do not assume and do not judge where they have ended up. One thing I learned is that 80% of it, is the circumstance, and reduced access to adequate role models, life opportunities, and respect throughout their lives. If you respect them, they will respect you back. If you are willing to treat them like any other human, with kindness and respect, you will have an extremely eye-opening experience and will take a lot away from working in these types of facilities. Working there made me not only grow my skills, but it helped me grow as a person and I am very thankful for my time working there which allowed me to see life from many new and unique perspectives.
Some of the main questions we get asked are:
What do you actually do while correctional nursing?
This is asked ALL THE TIME. I mean it’s a fair question because I asked the exact same thing before starting there. You do so many things it’s hard to highlight all that we do in this blog post, but I’ll give you a rundown of a normal day. Take note that this is just my personal experience at one correctional facility, and I cannot speak for others. So, in the morning you are allocated an area you do a morning medication round from a dispensary window which takes anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the day and what inmates present to the window with. During medication rounds, inmates come and ask you for things other than medication, such as medical certificates for work or that they want to see the doctor, so during the middle of your day you are sorting out all these loose ends. You also have diabetic inmates in each area, so you do their blood sugar checks and insulin in the morning, at lunch, and in the evening. In the afternoon, the morning rostered nurses do an evening medication round at about 3 pm whilst the evening rostered nurses do all the buprenorphine injections for that day as well as onboarding new inmates, otherwise known as “fresh to custody” inmates and “transfers”. A large number of inmates have previous drug addictions and can be placed on buprenorphine injections if they meet certain criteria, to ensure they do not experience life-threatening withdrawals. You are busy constantly and are always prioritising what is the most important, which can be very difficult when you want to get everything done.
Is it safe? Are you ever alone with the inmates?
They wouldn’t send agency nurses into an environment that was dangerously unsafe. They have everything in place to maintain safe working conditions for you and your colleagues. You wear a duress alarm, a radio and always carry keys with you that allow you to access secure areas. You lock yourself into the dispensaries where you give the medications and there are officers with you anytime there is an inmate with you. You get escorted through the “neighbourhoods” (where the inmates live and where their yard is), with an officer if you need to go down for any reason, such as if inmates are locked in their cells or for certain assessment requests.
Trust your gut. Just ask an officer to escort you or assist you if you feel unsafe. Do not feel like you can’t ask for someone to be with you, and don’t feel afraid to press your duress, as that’s what it is there for!
Do you know what they have done or why they are in there?
No, you don’t. We don’t have access to the database that the officers do, we only have access to their health information and health records. Some of them tell you or make comments about why they are there and obviously there is talk around the jails about what people have done but you really must try not buy into it. And if you do just don’t let it affect your job. You need to treat everyone equally and knowing what they have done may change your opinion and treatment of them. You’re not there to judge them, that’s already been done by the courts and by their sentence. You’re there to work with them so they are healthy and get their medications and whatever else they may need from a primary health care stance.
Why do we do it?
For one, the first reason anyone does anything, the pay is great. In all honesty, I was extremely hesitant to work in a goal before seeing the pay rates, but that’s just because of my own preconceived ideas of what it would be like and my own fears, however, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.
It is actually a very autonomous job which I love. You also gain completely new skills and experiences for your CV which can open heaps of opportunities for contracts in the future. In a way it’s like working in a community health centre so you can run your own day and do clinics during the day such as doing blood tests and wound dressings. It’s also just super interesting and I love a challenge, which it definitely is!
What do you wish you knew before you started?
You can’t expect to go in and have a routine, every day is different, and you constantly have to prioritise things and often feel very overwhelmed with the workload. You aren’t expected to do it all alone. You just have to back yourself up and be confident in the decisions you make. It’s tough work, but if you stick it out, I promise it’s worth it.
That you get called “miss” about 2000 times a day! This takes some getting used to!
Personality clashes are massive in a gaol environment (as in every work environment really) as it is very highly stressful. But at the end of the day, we do all work together and when we do, everything runs smoothly. Just remember to stay true to yourself and don’t buy into any negativity that may arise.
If you are thinking of coming to work in gaol, here are some top tips to stick by:
Don’t make any promises to anyone (specifically inmates – they hold onto everything)
Trust your gut
If you feel overwhelmed, step back and take a breath
Don’t be afraid to ask for help because we all need help
Don’t come in expecting it to be a certain way, you just have to roll with the punches
What you put in, you do get back. If you make an effort and actually work hard, the inmates respect you and appreciate you. In all seriousness, the majority of the time the inmates are great to work with and they do really respect the nurses which is awesome, but you have to be nice and respectful to them to get respect back.
Take the plunge, take a chance and do something outside your comfort zone. Every experience is an opportunity to grow, personally and professionally. Have fun!