Students who are working toward their master’s in nursing degree probably envision working in a hospital or doctor’s office, which is reasonable seeing that 48 percent of registered nurses worked in private, general medical and surgical hospitals in 2010. However, there’s a group of nurses who have the same skills, yet who are working in a totally different setting.
Correctional nursing is a specialty that doesn’t get any headline attention but is a possible career choice for those willing to take the risks. A correctional nurse career involves working in juvenile correction facilities, penitentiaries, prisons, and detention centers and being exposed to violence and vulgarity, and at times correctional nurses are on the receiving end of violence. A correctional nurse must come to terms with providing care to individuals who may have committed cruel and violent crimes. Other unique challenges they face are strict security regulations, crowded facilities, and the countless legal and public health considerations of providing care to incarcerated populations. On the bright side, nurses in federal and many state facilities have excellent job security and exceptional benefits, including full retirement with 20 years of service.
Inmates have a higher-than-average occurrence of rare and chronic illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, drug addiction, detox, mental/psychological illness, kidney failure, and pulmonary disorders. Correctional nurses perform basic medical exams, assist physicians during medical procedures (if there’s a physician onsite), do rounds on their patients/inmates recording their observations and evaluating their symptoms and progress, conduct the physical health and medical histories of each inmate upon admittance, and prescribe medicines and treatments to inmates always staying aware of drug hoarding. Many nurses like being a correctional nurse because of the autonomy; in environments where there are no doctors, the nurses make the decisions instead of physicians.
You’ll find nurses with all levels of education and experience working in the correctional facility setting including certified nursing assistants (CNAs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), licensed vocational nurses (LVNs), RNs, clinical nurse specialists, and nurse practitioners (NPs). Most correctional nursing positions require that a nurse hold an RN/BSN degree from an accredited university and have at least one to two years of previous experience as an RN.
All states require registered nurses to obtain licensure after completion of an approved nursing program; licensing requirements vary by state. In addition to licensure, most facilities prefer that their correctional nurses are certified. The most popular professional certification in this field is offered by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC); it offers a basic and advanced Certified Correctional Health Professional (CCHP) certification.
Although you can become a nurse with just an associate degree, many nurses recommend earning a bachelor’s degree because you have a better understanding of the field. The more money you want to earn and the more responsibilities you want to take on rely heavily on your degree. Individuals working in the correctional systems as clinical nurse specialists, NPs, and nurse educators earned a traditional or online master’s degree in nursing, also known as the MSN degree.
There are also some individuals who choose to enroll in an RN to MSN online or traditional degree program, which covers health care basics, handling machines and other medical equipment safely and responsibly, and safety.
 (2011, Feb. 4) An inside look at opportunities in prison nursing. Health Callings. Retrieved from
 Correctional nurse career profile. Nursing-school-degrees. Retrieved from http://www.nursing-school-degrees.com/Nursing-Careers/correctional-nursing.html.
 Gain a professional edge: Invest in CCHP certification. National Commission on Correctional Health Care. Retrieved from http://www.ncchc.org/health-professional-certification.
Online RN to MSN + Masters in Nursing Degree Programs. RNtoMSN.org. Retrieved from http://rn-to-msn.org/.
 Registered Nurses. BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Registered-nurses.htm#tab-3.
Why do nurses need a master’s degree. eHow.