Correctional Nurse: Interview with Lorry Schoenly
Our ninth installment of this series talks to Lorry Schoenly, a nurse who has earned her PhD whose bio states: “Dr. Schoenly has been a nurse for 25 years and is currently specializing in correctional healthcare. She is a clinical education specialist and author actively advocating for excellence in this practice setting. Her site CorrectionalNurse.Net provides a forum to interpret correctional healthcare to the public and healthcare community. Lorry is a strong advocate for development of the specialty practice of correctional nursing, speaking and writing frequently on correctional nursing practice issues.”
Very few children say something like “I want to be a nurse and take care of prisoners when I grow up”. Yet 1 in 100 Americans is behind bars today, making the need for correctional nurses ever present.
Many nurses I know who now work in corrections came upon their career accidentally. Most nursing schools do not have clinical experiences in a jail or prison, and we don’t generally think about that as a clinical setting. I have helped nursing schools begin community rotations in correctional settings. Nursing students end up enjoying the experience. You see some interesting and unusual conditions in our specialty.
You have spoken of misconceptions about correctional nursing. How important to you personally is it to change the misconceptions?
Generally, doctors and nurses working in jails and prisons struggle with a poor professional image. I’m not sure all the reasons, but one is likely that inmate-patients are not always easy to work with. Some may paint the practitioner with the same brush as the patient population. However, this patient group is vulnerable and marginalized. They are typically an under-served group and in need of a lot of care. Some nurses see their work in corrections as much a professional calling as a job.
One of the reasons I started my blog two years ago was to make visible the nursing specialty and to improve the image of the correctional nurse. There are so many wonderful people working every day to provide needed health care to our citizens behind bars. I want to do my part to applaud them and also help them through the information I share.
You can go back in time, and give yourself some helpful advice as a nursing student in her first year. What do you tell yourself as a way to avoid something or improve something about how it all comes together for you later?
I graduated from nursing school in the early 80’s. Nursing school is such a busy and stressful time. I learned more in my few years in nursing school than I think I have ever learned prior or since. I think I would recommend that any nursing student take advantage of every clinical opportunity they can during school. All the basics apply in any clinical situation, including corrections. I would also recommend for nursing students to really see the patient in the care they are giving. There is so much to remember to do when you are first passing medications or changing a dressing. It can be easy to miss the human connection.
Once a student decides to be a specialist, such as correctional nursing, what should they expect?
Choosing a specialization can both increase and decrease career options. Although I said earlier that most correctional nurses come to the specialty accidentally, I don’t advocate that method for career management. Carefully consider the kinds of nursing care that bring the most pleasure and satisfaction, then strive for more of it through specialization. Once you are skillful in the basics of nursing, moving into a specialty is a matter of developing expertise in the common conditions and procedures of the field. For example, correctional nursing is all about the security setting and the patient population. By understanding those two variables, you understand the key components of correctional nursing care.
Thanks for the insight and first-hand knowledge, Lorry! Be sure to visit Lorry’s blog Correctional Nurse.Net where you will find MANY excellent posts regarding the challenges, benefits and details surrounding the subject of correctional/specialty nursing.