What do you enjoy the most about your work?
Probably working with such a diverse group of patients, and also working with my colleagues. We are a small team, but each of us has a very different background so we all learn from each other and it’s relatively easy for us to make changes and improvements to the way we work.
What are the biggest challenges? And the biggest rewards?
It’s sometimes a challenge to educate patients, as the majority of them haven’t accessed healthcare before. The biggest reward is seeing how your help impacts the patients, it’s like a light switch going on in their eyes.
Who do you work with in your role?
I work with many people―pharmacy staff, doctors, GPs, podiatrists, the dental team, recovery services, secondary care consultants and more!
Do you do any training?
As I hadn’t worked in a secure environment before, I had to do a lot of training at the beginning. Additional training I’ve done includes vaccinations training, sexual health training, triage training, and long-term illnesses training covering diabetes, asthma, etc.
What do you think are the main differences between working in a prison and more traditional environments like GP practices and hospitals?
The main one is probably time. In a hospital staff are under a lot of pressure and they may not get a lot of time with patients. In a prison you get a chance to look at your notes before you see a patient, so that you really know who you have in front of you. And they are not going anywhere, so you can always let them go and call them back if you need to. You are definitely encouraged to spend time with your patients and the circumstances allow for this to happen.
You are also encouraged to undergo further training and take initiative, which is good for self-confidence. What’s good is also that you have a captive audience, people who actually want to better their lives and are interested in learning more about healthcare.
Which skills would you say you need to be a prison nurse?
You need dynamic thinking and the ability to critically assess what you are being told. Equally, you need self-awareness about what you are saying to patients. You must also be able to adapt to change―particularly in current circumstances―, prioritise your workload, react to emergencies and be willing to always improve your work.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about being a prison nurse?
That it’s all about drugs and mental health. We do have that type of services, but our job is about so much more. Another misconception is that you’ll de-skill in prison nursing. In reality, the different kinds of training you get provide you with new skills specific to prison nursing and actually enhance the skills you already have.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I typically work from 8.30am to 4.30pm. I start with a triage, look at any applications that have been submitted to the system overnight, then we have the long-term condition clinic and overnight assessments, and Methadone administration. But every day is different as it’s such a varied role and the range of illnesses you deal with is so vast!
How many patients do you typically treat in a day?
Again, this varies, but typically it’s 15 to 20.
Mobiles phones are forbidden within secure environments. Which methods do you have for communicating within the prison?
Staff have access to landline and emails. Then we have leaflets, notice boards and an application system for patients to book appointments.
What is Spectrum like as an employer?
Everyone at Spectrum is very friendly and helpful, down to the IT support team. They make you feel valued as a member of the organisation and like your work is recognised. I particularly like the weekly newsletter because it allows the work of everyone across the organisation to be shared and recognised, and it connects all staff. Spectrum always asks for suggestions to improve how they do things and they allow you to make a contribution that way. They also always encourage you to do extra training.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would encourage everyone thinking of applying to become a prison nurse not to listen to misconception―go with your gut feeling and apply. It’s one of the rare jobs where you really feel like you are making a difference. I would also suggest to get in touch with the healthcare team working in the prison where they are thinking of applying, to get the chance to visit the facilities and meet the team.
Thank you for your time Sophie!
To find out more about joining the Spectrum team, view our current vacancies here.