There used to be a stereotype that the physicians in correctional facilities were the worst of the bunch. Whether a doctor was having disciplinary issues or was under fire for malpractice, there was a “reason” why certain prison physicians were paired with a group of law-breakers. But times have changed, and with a strong national emphasis on healthcare reform and an improved prison system, this unlikely field is gaining momentum and offering sought after opportunities for locum tenens.
So what’s in it for doctors, and why are more physicians leaving their community practice to work behind bars with some of the hardest criminals?
- Earn more
- Work less
- Spend more time with family
Sound too good to be true? Not in this case. Many prison doctors report better pay, better hours, better retirement, and even free malpractice insurance. Plus, you can easily work overtime and pick up additional shifts. Some doctors even report better pay in prisons than they did during the most thriving years of their practice.
Why Do Prisoners Need Prison Physicians?
In many cases, inmates are dying from preventable causes. In one prison death case, a diabetic serving time for insurance fraud was denied insulin. This neglect of a non-violent criminal ultimately resulted in an unjust death. However, for many inmates, prison offers access to healthcare that they wouldn’t have if they weren’t incarcerated. Prison can leave inmates feeling lost and defeated, so prison doctors provide a service that is built on a mutual need.
The most common medical problems treated in prison aren’t from fights. They are heart disease, cancer, liver diseases, and AIDS-related illnesses. For some inmates, prison is the only opportunity they’ve had to gain access to healthcare. Many inmates upon release return to poor communities that are riddled with drugs and violence, so by providing access to adequate healthcare, prison physicians are essentially giving inmates another shot at health and wellness.
Things to Keep in Mind
If you’re considering making the switch from a private practice to prison walls, there are a few things that should be addressed.
- Doctors aren’t guards: Much hostility between inmates and prison workers is among law enforcement. There is a huge difference in the relationship between prison physicians trying to help a patient and a guard who is trying to restrain and monitor an inmate.
- Be mindful of social situations: People’s social situations influence the way they take care of themselves, and sometimes people are dealt a bad hand. It may seem like there’s no way out, and a prison isn’t an ideal community, but through helpful doctors, these inmates have another shot at leading a healthy and fulfilling life.
- You’re truly going to change lives: For some inmates, prison gives them the chance to be taken care of by a physician, which is a luxury for many. For some, they may have never been in the care of a trained physician until they were placed in the correctional system.
So what salaries can you expect as a prison doctor? Here are some maximum figures in different states:
New York – $200,147 ( includes overtime )
Texas – $220,000
Florida – $230,711 ( not including overtime )
California – $248,172 ( not including overtime or extra duty )
If safety is a concern of your own or your family, remember that you never know what you’re going to see in the emergency room, or who may walk in with a concealed weapon. In prison, you know that your patients have been stripped of any potentially dangerous items and are there for genuine help. Perhaps life behind bars isn’t so bad, after all.