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URI Nursing Students Get Hands-On Experience in State Prisons
By Tracey E. Zeckhausen , Chief of Information & Public Relations Rhode Island Department of Corrections
Published: 11/22/2010

Uri nursing students URI Nursing Professor Ginette Ferszt says it’s been a longtime goal of hers to have URI nursing students working in the Adult Corrections Institutions in Cranston, where she has worked with pregnant inmates for many years. Last year, she approached then interim Director of General Nursing Services, Gordon Bouchard. After several meetings, they decided to move forward and subsequently they met with Diane Martins, R.N., Ph.D. and eventually Dr. Michael Fine, Medical Program Director at the RIDOC. They discussed what the Community Clinical rotation would look like for the students and what facility would be the best.

It was decided that the John J. Moran Medium Security Facility would be the ideal location, in part because the nursing staff there was so enthusiastic and eager to work with the students. Calling the nurses, “very excited and professional,” Diane enthuses about what an excellent setting Moran has proven to be for the eight undergraduates and one graduate student, Joyce Hickey, who is studying Psychology and Mental Health. The group spends every Thursday at Moran, with two of the students rotating out over to the Women’s facilities with Ginette Ferszt each week.

When plans were finalized this summer, the students were told about the opportunity and all eight in Diane’s clinical chose to sign on for the experience. The students are offered the opportunity to do a lot of hands-on learning. They give medications and insulin, are taught about drawing blood, complete basic health assessments, take vital signs, do EKG’s, give vaccines, see each diabetic patient in the building, help assess inmates coming in for sick visits, and more, all under more experienced nurses’ supervision. They even get to spend time in the segregation unit so they learn the difference between inmates in seg and those in the general population.

To increase their ability to learn about what life is like for inmates, Diane has arranged for all of the students to attend the Special Community Outreach Education, or SCORE, Program. At SCORE presentations, the students hear from a panel of inmates doing long sentences for a variety of offenses who tell about their lives leading up to and during their incarceration and encourage audience members to make better choices than they did. They discuss such topics as peer pressure, substance abuse, respect of authority, bullying, and the importance of education. Those who have attended to date have found the experience fascinating and extremely eye opening.

The staff and students applaud the Correctional Officers in the unit, Lisa Favino-Freeman and Silka Delgado. They are also quick to compliment Gordon Bouchard, who gave the students an orientation. They have worked closely with several nurses including Mel White, R.N., who has been, according to Diane, “delightful, patient, and unbelievable with the students.”

URI School of Nursing’s Dean, Dayle Joseph, has been very supportive of the partnership between the URI School of Nursing and the RIDOC and, according to Martins and Ferszt is supportive of creative and innovative clinicals in general. “She is committed to working with vulnerable populations,” says Ferszt, “and to creating more linkages with the community.”

On their first Thursday at the men’s facility, the students had an hour-long discussion with a group of inmates there. That helped break the ice, they say, describing the inmates as very open and appreciative of what is done for them by the nursing and medical staff.

Enthused about their clinical rotation at the ACI so far, the students seem surprised at how polite the inmates are to them and how patient and supportive the staff has been toward them. “I’ve gotten more experience in this clinical than I have in all of my others put together,” says one of the seniors. Inmate patients tend to be plagued by chronic and mental health issues, and particularly in the Moran building, there are a lot of older adults.

Kristen says she was very nervous coming in the first time but now feels safe and “absolutely loves it!” She and many others mentioned that the dogs in the Prison Pup Partnership Program in the Moran building helped put them at ease and break the ice. Ashley learned how under-educated the inmates can be about things like sexually transmitted diseases. Abbey, who was one of the first to attend the SCORE program, found it moving and inspiring to listen to the inmates’ stories. “Many of them don’t know where they will go from here, or how they will live on the outside,” she commented. “They had bright futures, which they lost over a stupid decision,” she goes on. “It’s a great learning opportunity for young kids.” Maleny points out that the prison population is much like any other population – “if you give them respect, they will give you respect in return.” Marissa found it shocking when at women’s the inmates spoke about things she and her classmates take for granted, like not being able to have a snack any time you want. Or having to go to the hospital in handcuffs and worrying you might see someone you know. Another thing the students said is that they do not know what an inmate is in here for, they are here to provide nursing care just like they would for any other patient. They were also surprised at how trusting the female inmates are and how much confidence they have in the nursing and medical staff. Someone who will listen is a big comfort to them.

Asked if they would consider a career in correctional nursing after graduation, many raised their hands. Kristen notes that getting all of this practical experience during their senior year when they are about to graduate is really great.

URI School of Nursing currently has 13 different student groups doing clinicals out in the community, but this is the very first at the RI DOC. If the students and staff involved in the partnership have their wish, it is the first of many.

The Students: Abimbola Adeboye, Maleny Arounlangsy, Kristen Chamberlain, Ashley Coviello, Cara Daniels, Marissa Lachaga, Lauren Poston, Kristen Sankey The Staff: Ginette Ferszt, Associate Professor of Nursing; Diane C. Martins, Associate Professor of Nursing

Other articles by Zeckhausen


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