I Moved From the ER to This Unconventional Workplace — Here’s Why It’s Been My Best Career Choice

Sponsored by Southern Health Partners

Photo Courtesy of Southern Health Partners.

Photo Courtesy of Southern Health Partners.

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April 23, 2024 at 4:44PM UTC

Shelly Cole, RN, MSN and Chronic Care Nurse for Southern Health Partners, spent years working as a nurse in various environments. Most recently, she transitioned from working in healthcare facilities like the ICU and ER to working in a corrections facility. 

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She’s seen it all over the years, and now she gets to enjoy the safety and support of her team in a workplace in which she takes great pride. In this interview, Cole told Fairygodboss all about transitioning from one workplace culture to another, the importance of company resources and the value in managerial support — dispelling myths about working in corrections facilities and sharing tips for women who want to follow in her footsteps. 

How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously? 

I have been with Southern Health Partners (SHP) for four and a half years. I have been at Sumner County Jail in Tennessee for four years. Prior to working for Southern Health Partners full time, I worked in many fields as a nurse. I am married to a veteran and, with moving around, I had the chance to work in many facilities, in different states and in a variety of fields of nursing. I have worked in the ICU, the ER, in labor and delivery, as a Director in a hospital and in long-term care. I have also been a Nursing Instructor and a DON at a prison, and an IC in a prison, just to name a few.

What made you want to pursue a career at Southern Health Partners?

I actually started out helping a nurse that had worked for me in a prison. She knew I enjoyed corrections and offered me a job, four hours a week.

How is this organization different from others you’ve worked for? 

Southern Health Partners is my favorite company to work for after all these years. We are supported by the company in all aspects of our jobs. Safety is mandatory for all sites, respect of the nurses is mandatory at all sites and I have the tools to do my job. In many industries today, nurses are expected to smile and continue on because the patient satisfaction scores must stay up for funding, or else the families may move the patients. As a result, many nurses are verbally abused by patients and physicians and the organization they work for who expect nurses to accept that it is part of the job.

Also, I am provided the most up-to-date education on correctional nursing by the company. I do not have to go looking for the newest trends, procedures, drugs, or behaviors of our patients. The company is one step ahead and makes sure that I am, as well. Education is provided to me so that I may learn in an environment that is best for me when it is best for me. Many times, in other facilities you are waiting for someone to get this information to you, and then it is provided on your day off or while you are busy working and cannot be present for the complete educational experience. So you miss out on important updates.

This company treats each of us equally. If you have the skill and the willingness to climb the ladder in this company, you will be considered; there are no favorites. I have worked for organizations that chose males over females to be promoted because there were no males in management or the VP was a male and stated several times how much he wanted more males “sitting next to him at the management table.” SHP also has an open-door policy. I can speak to anyone regarding issues I may have at the workplace. There’s no need to climb the ladder and wait and see if your issue is worth the “big boss’” time. My boss, her boss, the physician, etc. make me feel welcomed and appreciated. I have never felt I was replaceable; I have always felt wanted and needed at my job with SHP.

What about your work most excites you?

I can tell you that there are several aspects of my work that excite me! Autonomy would be the first. I am trusted to know how to do my job, follow protocol and to contact the physician when needed. I set my schedule for my day. I see patients at the best time for the patient, the jail and for myself. I have 29 years of experience as a nurse, and I am allowed to use the skills I have earned through the years in order to properly and happily treat each and every patient.

Do you feel that there are misconceptions about working in corrections? Why or why not?

There are many misconceptions about working in corrections, which is understandable for those who have never worked inside of a corrections facility. First of all, yes, we are safe. We have officers with us at all times when we are caring for a patient. Not all patients are violent; many patients can be found in a jail for many things. If patients are treated with respect and we honor their privacy, they are no risk to a nurse.

How does Southern Health Partners help you feel safe and supported in your role?

Southern Health Partners has always stood by a nurse’s decision to not enter into a situation in which they do not feel safe. I have witnessed SHP sit and speak with the facility on plans to make nurses feel comfortable in doing their jobs, or the job cannot be performed. 

Are there any specific programs or resources that are made available to you?

SHP provides us with education that is up-to-date in our jobs every month. The education that is provided is able to be used as a resource. We have classes and training on-site at times. We have a Regional available to us at all times and a Chief Nursing Officer that is available at all times, as well.

We have state mental health facilities and crisis centers we may call for our mentally ill patients. Many facilities have a psychiatrist on call and, of course, we have a medical doctor on call, as well. Monthly training is also provided at staff meetings. If you have a topic that you need more education on, MTAs are willing to get that information for you and provide it at the staff meetings. Many facilities have training that nurses are invited to attend, as well.

Tell me a little bit about your transition from working in an ER to working in a SHP facility?

The best part of the transition from working in an ER for me was safety. I can now walk into a room and know that I will neither be attacked with objects thrown at me, nor will I have family members in my face screaming and threatening me. I am secure with an officer at all times.

In a detention facility, I do not have a doctor by my side at all times. Therefore, I must have great assessment skills and I am expected to know the protocols, follow the protocols and know when the care needed is beyond my scope of practice. In an ER, the doctor is there at all times.  Our doctors are on call to support our needs when not at the facility.  A really big transition from ER to Corrections is that, when it comes to the health of a patient, nurses have the opportunity to make a decision in the moment that may make all the difference for a patient.  

I enjoyed the challenge of the ER, which I still get in a corrections facility, but I really like being secure in the corrections facility and not worrying about my safety.

What is your favorite part about working at Southern Health Partners?

My favorite part about Southern Health Partners is the support. I have never felt unsupported by my MTA or Regional. I have never had to go beyond my MTA for support. I know that, if I have an issue, it will be looked at and worked on, and a fair outcome will happen. Nothing is just shaken off or ignored. If the issue is important to you, then SHP finds it important to them.

What is your number one piece of advice for other nurses who are looking to grow their career? 

Any nurse looking to work for a company to advance within that company, try SHP. SHP, honestly, will give nurses that work hard and show the potential to be great leaders a chance. They will look for nurses that have specific skills and allow them to share those skills with other nurses in other facilities. SHP is always looking for talent they can grow and share within their “walls.” This is the place to work, to spread your wings and to fly as high as you wish!


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