Penn State Nursing Programs Focus on Caring for Sexual Assault Survivors

University Park, Pa. — Nurses are often the first and possibly the only professionals — whether medical or legal — that a survivor of sexual violence has contact with following an assault, yet many clinics and hospitals do not train nurses in the complex medical and forensic processes required to properly treat these trauma patients.

Addressing Pediatric Sexual Violence
Sheridan Miyamoto, PhD, FNP, assistant professor at Penn State CON, introduces students to sexual assault nursing through the university’s Child Maltreatment and Advocacy Studies (CMAS) program. Future nurses interested in pediatric care can minor in the interdisciplinary CMAS program, in which Miyamoto leads a course that teaches medical responses for underage victims of sexual abuse. It’s often the first time that students realize caring for victims of sexual violence is a career option, she says.

“Because they’ve been introduced to [sexual assault nursing] in the classroom first, students see it as more accessible and understand how they can be effective in the role of a SANE,” says Miyamoto. “This course gives them time to explore that career path, and they really come away thinking they are well-prepared to understand the issues they may face in caring for these patients.”

Many nurses who earn SANE certification decide to do so after already starting their careers — when years on the job have shown them the great need for this type of specialty care, Miyamoto explains. Teaching students about this need is pivotal to growing the SANE workforce and empowering future nurses to start planning their careers, she says.

“[Sexual assault nursing] is an area where there’s a real dearth of people who go into the field” because so few nursing programs address it, says Miyamoto. She estimates that one in four nursing students who enroll in the CMAS minor end up wanting to pursue forensic and sexual assault nursing as a career. “I regularly hear back from those who have graduated and gone on to practice for a year doing emergency or ICU work and are now ready to pursue [the necessary training].”