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MAR 24/2017

The reality of working as a mental health nurse in a prison

Have you ever wondered what it is like to work in prison nursing? We caught up with Nurse Dean who gives us an insight into his role and tells us what it is really like to work as a mental health nurse in a prison.

Why were you interested in a career in prison nursing, and specifically mental health?

“I worked as a care assistant for a number of years before going to university to complete my nursing degree. The preconception is that it can be daunting and frightening to work in a prison but a role came up and my friend advised me to apply. I was offered the prison nursing job and I stayed in that role for a number of years.

“I realised that many prisoners had issues with their mental health and with substance misuse. If we see prison as a place of reform and rehabilitation, it is very important that their mental health needs are addressed with a view to returning them to society. It is a challenge to work with some of the most marginalised (and often stigmatised) people, and an opportunity for me to make a real difference.”

What do you think are the key benefits of working as a mental health nurse in a prison?

“I have enjoyed the challenges of a job where no two days are ever the same. There is a real sense of camaraderie among the healthcare staff and prison officers. We work closely to ensure that prisoners with mental health problems are properly cared for and supported. 

“The confidence I have gained is immeasurable and I have increased my knowledge and skills in a way I would never have imagined possible. I attend ongoing training sessions and have access to the latest resources on mental health and risk assessments. “ 

What have you learnt?

“I have learnt to accept patients as individuals in a non-judgemental manner. I have learnt from my RGN colleagues and paramedics about handling emergency situations. With kind and caring treatment, there is an element of good in almost everyone and winning the trust of these often disadvantaged patients brings its own rewards.”

How do you feel about agency work?

“I have been working as an agency nurse for two years and I am never short of work. Agency work is truly varied and adds greatly to my knowledge and skills.

"It gives me the freedom to work when and where I prefer which fits in with my personal commitments. I have also met many friends and colleagues in different settings and learned from every one of them.”

What would you tell another nurse who is interested in a career in prison nursing? 

“I would say there are some days when you will say ‘I’m never going back to work in a prison’ but many more where you will exclaim ‘I couldn’t work anywhere else’. Many people consider that you have to be a special kind of nurse to work in a prison but I would tell other nurses to try it out. You may find that you are more special than you like to think!”

Is there anything you wish you had known beforehand? 

“I wish I had known how you can be reduced from tears of sadness to tears of laughter, all in a few minutes.

"It is the most rewarding feeling when a prisoner gains a real insight into his condition, or you hear that a young person, whose life had been a revolving door of untreated mental health issues and convictions, is now doing well. I would most certainly recommend it.

Can you describe a typical day?

“On a typical day, I carry out mental health and risk assessments. I write up care plans and discuss treatment options with patients. I sometimes visit clinics with a psychiatrist and refer patients to other healthcare professionals. I attend emergency codes and listen to inmates who may never have opened up to anyone about their childhoods. I administer medication, write reports, and arrange discharges and follow up.”

What are your long-term career plans?

“I prefer shift work and would be happy to continue working as an agency nurse for as long as I can. In terms of my professional development, I would like to return to university to study a forensic nursing module. I would consider developing my career in the direction of cognitive behavioural therapy and counselling.”

How would you rate the support you have received from Medacs Healthcare?

“I have received excellent support from Medacs Healthcare. My consultant Mo is really thoughtful and understanding. The support I have obtained to keep up with mandatory training and current practices is invaluable.

"If I have any issues I know that help is only a phone call away. No problem is too trivial for him to listen to and I find this very reassuring.”

Find out more

Are you interested in gaining nursing experience in a prison setting? Register your interest or get in touch with our prison nursing team at nursejobs@medacs.com

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