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URI nursing students get hands-on experience in state prisons

Monday July 11, 2011
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Nursing students participate in clinical rotations at the John J. Moran Medium Security Facility.
(Photos courtesy of RIDC)
Nursing students at University of Rhode in Kingston, R.I., embarked on a clinical journey last year that took them outside the classroom and into the real world of nursing.

Creating a plan

URI Nursing Associate Professor Ginette Ferszt, RN, PhD, CS, said it had been a longtime goal of hers to have students complete clinicals at the Adult Corrections Institutions in Cranston, where she has worked with pregnant inmates for many years.

A couple years ago, she approached then interim Director of General Nursing Services, Gordon Bouchard, with her plan. After several meetings, they sought support of Diane Martins, RN, PhD, and Michael Fine, MD, medical program director at the Rhode Island Department of Corrections. The group discussed what the Community Clinical rotation would look like for students and at which facility they would pilot the program.

John J. Moran Medium Security Facility was chosen, in part because the nursing staff there was so enthusiastic and eager to work with the students. Moran proved to be an excellent setting; when plans were finalized the summer of 2010, all eight students in Martins’ clinical signed on.

“The students were very excited and professional,” Martins said.

In session

The students were offered the opportunity to do a lot of hands-on learning, all under nurses’ supervision. They gave medications and insulin, learn about drawing blood, completed basic health assessments, took vital signs, administered vaccines, met each diabetic patient in the building, and helped assess inmates coming in for sick visits.


The class of students in the Community Clinical.
To increase their ability to learn about what life is like for inmates, Martins arranged for all of the students to attend the Special Community Outreach Education program. At SCORE presentations, the students heard from a panel of inmates doing long sentences for a variety of offenses who told about their lives leading up to and during their incarceration and encouraged audience members to make better choices than they did.

Support for students

The students worked closely with several nurses including Mel White, RN, who was, according to Martins, “delightful, patient, and unbelievable with the students.”

URI School of Nursing’s Dean, Dayle Joseph, remains very supportive of the partnership between the URI School of Nursing and the RIDOC as well as the creative and innovative clinicals.

“She is committed to working with vulnerable populations,” said Ferszt, “and to creating more linkages with the community.”

Making contact

On their first Thursday at the men’s facility, the students had an hourlong discussion with a group of inmates there. That helped break the ice, they said.

“I’ve gotten more experience in this clinical than I have in all of my others put together,” one of the seniors said.

Abimbola Adeboye, who was one of the first students 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 said. “They had bright futures, which they lost over a stupid decision.”

Maleny Arounlangsy pointed out that the prison population is much like any other population — “if you give them respect, they will give you respect in return.”

Asked if they would consider a career in correctional nursing after graduation, many raised their hands.


Tracey E. Zeckhausen is chief of information and public relations at RIDC.
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