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New Training Program Helps Nurses Care for Victims of Sexual Assault

Improved training means better care for victims and more successful prosecutions.

Day in and day out, nurses call on specialized skills to provide care for victims of illness, injury and trauma. Yet some injuries are so emotionally and physically damaging they require an extra level of sensitivity and skill. Now, an innovative educational program developed by nurses at Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN), is being shared with nurses across the country to help shorten the preparation time to become a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE).

SANE training helps nurses perform competent and compassionate physical examinations after sexual assault, while also collecting high-quality evidence that can be used to prosecute offenders.

Developing skills to aid assault victims

The training, developed by LVHN colleagues Sandra Sabbatini, RN, Michele Rice, RN, Amanda Howat, RN, and Devin Kennedy, RN, has nearly doubled the number of qualified sexual assault nurses at LVHN.

“Traditionally, when training SANEs we had to wait until a patient, trainer and nurse trainee were available simultaneously,” says Sabbatini, a patient care specialist at Lehigh Valley Hospital–17th Street. “Training often took two years, creating a shortage of skilled nurses.”

LVHN’s new SANE training program occurs in a simulation lab where trainees practice an exam room scenario with a standardized patient (SP), an actor playing the role of an assault victim. Sessions are videotaped, plus trainees receive constructive pointers from the trainer and SP to refine their skills.

“We’ve decreased training time down to 4–12 months and increased the number of qualified SANE nurses at LVHN from 15 in 2014 to 24 in 2017,” Sabbatini says.

Sharing LVHN expertise

Recently, the program was presented to the Pennsylvania Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) during its statewide conference in Pittsburgh. Soon, it will have an even bigger audience when it’s presented at ENA’s national conference in St. Louis and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) National Magnet Conference® in Houston.

“Training helps nurses become skilled at healing victims emotionally and physically,” says Sabbatini. “Collecting DNA and other evidence also means more perpetrators are convicted. Now we’re sharing our program at conferences to help other hospitals better meet the needs of sexual assault victims in their communities.”