Sheila appointed to senior role in US jails

Sheila Burns, from Linlithgow, has been appointed to senior health role in US
Sheila Burns, from Linlithgow, has been appointed to senior health role in US

A mother-of-two from Linlithgow has been appointed to a senior health role in the prison system in America.

Sheila Burns (46), who attended Linlithgow Academy until 1989, has been named director of nursing at Guilford County Jails in North Carolina.

She started this month and oversees three jails with up to 1350 prisoners which includes males, females and a juvenile detention centre.

Sheila said: “When the opportunity came up in Guilford County for director of nursing, I could not let the opportunity go by.

“My role has many aspects to it, but my focus is always on providing the best system to allow the nurses to care at the highest standards possible.

“Sometimes it can be challenging because as nurses we want to go ‘help’ and ‘heal’ but situations are sometimes just not safe.”

Sheila admits it has taken a long time to understand the US health system but when it comes down to it “there are exactly the same issues and needs as back in Scotland”.

She studied nursing at Glasgow University and worked with vulnerable children in Possilpark.

Sheila then stayed and worked with her aunt in New York – who was the head nurse in the Methadone Maintenance Clinic – volunteering in an AIDS hospice.

She said: “These experiences reinforced my appreciation and it piqued my interest in working with the most vulnerable parts in society.”

After graduating from Glasgow University she became a project worker for a residential crisis centre for drug addicts in Edinburgh.

She said: “Prison was part and parcel of their lives and from their accounts it seemed to increase the risks they were taking with their health as well as having a negative impact on any possible recovery.”

This experience led her to work in the prison system for five years with stints at Saughton, Shotts and Addiewell in Scotland.

While waiting on an application for a Green Card to work in the US come through Sheila did a Masters degree in Global Health Systems at Queen Margaret University.

She said: “Studying, working full-time, raising two teenagers Douglas and Heather, selling our house and moving to a different continent was quite a busy time!”

Asked what her ambitions are going forward in her career, she said: “I hope to continue being part of the family of correctional care.

“And advocate for the vulnerability of this population, whether that is at local level, state level or internationally.”