Stretching the Heartstrings: Being a SANE Nurse

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Over eight years ago, I started my career as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE). I work with an amazing team of nurses who chose this specialty to be able work with victims of sexual assault to care for them medically and collect what is often referred to as the rape kit. It may come as a surprise to some, but our work looks a lot different than an episode of Law and Order SVU and goes far beyond collecting a rape kit. As deeply as we care about our work, I have to be honest, when my pager beeps at 3 am, I don’t wake up, jump out of bed, and say “thank goodness I get to go help someone!” Caring for sexual assault victims sometimes starts with a groan, a yawn, and large cup of coffee. Our work is often exhausting, humbling, and challenging. Despite this, the nurses who choose to pursue this profession believe that sexual assault victims deserve the very best our healthcare system has to offer. We want the victims we serve to feel believed, respected, and prioritized even when they are in midst of a chaotic emergency department. So as SANEs, we leave our own sleeping babies in those early morning hours and head into work, knowing that our own fatigue pales in comparison to the sleepless nights that lay ahead for the sexual assault victim we are called to see.

SANE nursing is a unique field that asks nurses to stretch their heart strings a little further than our caring profession already requires. Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners were created out of need to better serve victims of sexual assault in emergency departments. Historically, sexual assault victims who came to the emergency department for medical care and evidence collection waited hours on end until a physician could see them. Nurses and advocates recognized that this retraumatized victims and worked to create a specialized training to expedite thier care. As a result, SANEs now respond quickly to meet with victims in emergency departments or community clinics to provide one-on-one comprehensive forensic nursing care. Our exams may still be lengthy, but we provide an opportunity to fully medically assess victims, collect potential evidence, and discuss follow up care and resources. In addition, specially trained advocates are on hand to provide support and information throughout the exam. SANEs are not only experts at forensic documentation but also trauma-informed, patient-centered care. SANEs know that taking the time to hold a hand or listen to a victim’s fears is just as important photographing a bruise or collecting a swab. As meaningful as our work is, SANEs would love it if no one ever needed our services. We believe that sexual assault is an avoidable epidemic and we hope that prevention efforts will one day put us out of work. So we will take this Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month to reflect on how far we have come, and how much work is left to do. We look forward to a future without sexual violence. Until that day comes, we will be here with coffee in hand, waiting to care for victims in one of their darkest hours.


Written by Amanda Corzine, RN, MSN, SANE-A, CFN

Help us provide a fresh change of (new) clothing to sexual assault survivors who seek medical attention. Why new clothing? Sexual assault survivors who receive a forensic exam often leave their clothing behind as evidence. Donating these items will provide a comfortable change of clothes to victims after a long and difficult exam.

It’s easy to donate, just click the link and head to our Amazon wish list.

Join us on April 26 for DENIM DAY IN THE USA, a campaign that raises community awareness about the devastating impacts of sexual violence and how to prevent it. For more info download our Denim Day Kit.