Vanderbilt School of Nursing begins graduate program in correctional health

August 18, 1999

Beginning this fall, the Vanderbilt School of Nursing will offer a course of study designed to prepare its graduates for work in the area of Correctional Health. It is one of the first graduate programs in the country to train adult nurse practitioners with a focus area in this field.

VUSN is partnering with the Federal Bureau of Prisons for the new program. The Bureau staff will provide some of the didactic content as well as some of the new clinical experiences for correctional health courses.

"We are fortunate to be able to have a close relationship with the Bureau to provide expertise for this unique program of study," says Linda Norman, associate dean of the School of Nursing. "This is one of the ways Vanderbilt is responding to emerging health care needs. This is very exciting for us and for the students.

"The federal bureau of prisons is looking for the best way to provide optimal health care to the incarcerated. The most rapidly growing segment of the federal government is the prison system, therefore, there is a need for adult nurse practitioners in this field."

According to Norman, the Bureau has stated that nearly 400 nurse practitioners will be needed over the next 3-5 years within its system. Corrections Corporation of America, a private prison management system, which houses its headquarters in Nashville, reported that it would have six positions open within the next 18 months.

"As we explored developing this program, we discovered that there is a need for nurse practitioners who have specialized knowledge of the prison health care system as well as prison management in addition to the core adult nurse practitioner courses," Norman explains. "Graduates will also need to be trained in other areas including fitness and self-defense.

"One of the reasons the bureau looked at Vanderbilt is our experience with managed care. Many of the prison health care delivery systems use the managed care concept-- controlling cost and promoting health. We are perfectly aligned for this."

Faculty and administration have been meeting with the Bureau staff for three years to develop the curriculum. Students may choose to have clinical experience through the state and local prison systems in the Nashville area as well as selected federal prisons in the U.S.

"There is excitement for this program," Norman says. "In the past, students would graduate from one of our nurse practitioner programs, find employment in the prison health care system, and would have to learn on the job about the unique practice needed for the correctional setting.

"With the new program, we will educate nurse practitioners about the health problems of the incarcerated population and the health care delivery system so that they will have an easier transition to this unique setting."

Several VUSN graduates are currently employed as nurse practitioners in the federal and state prisons in Tennessee and surrounding states.

"It will be a learning experience to work with students who are dedicated to caring for and working with those in the prisons."

The Correctional Health didactic and clinical courses will be open to students enrolled in other nurse practitioner majors such as Women's Health or Psych-Mental Health.

Interest in the program is growing among those in the medical field as well, she says. Physicians and nurse practitioners involved in correctional health care across the state have contacted the school about how they can become involved in the teaching program.

"VUSN is able to make a unique contribution to the health care delivery system by providing this program of study. You hear a lot about helping the under served; however, traditionally, health care education programs have not paid much attention to this population-- the incarcerated. They are truly a portion of the under served and in need of quality health care."

As the prison system grows and its population ages, the demand for specialized health care will also see an increase, Norman says.

Bureau officials agree: "They are asking themselves how they should provide care for segments of their population such as the increasing geriatric population. They are looking for creative approaches to health care. Having only physicians provide the care is expensive. As nurse practitioners become more involved health care systems, institutions like the Bureau began looking to nurse practitioners to provide primary care services."

The Federal Bureau of Prisons offers financial assistance for selected students while they are in school. Students interested in the Correctional Health Program may apply for consideration for funding for the specialty year.

Those who meet the standards for physical fitness and integrity could be selected for the Public Health Service Corp Officer Program receiving a stipend for living expenses and housing.

A two-year commitment to serve in an area of need in the Federal Bureau of Prisons is required. A short-term funding opportunity exists for students who choose to do their practice or preceptorship in a federal prison. They can receive a stipend for up to 120 days with no commitment for a service payback.

Leslie Coleman, MSN, RNC, will be the specialty director for the Adult Nurse Practitioner Program which has two choices for concentrations-- Correctional Health and Occupational Health.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center

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