ETSU nurse among first to receive SANE certification

After hundreds of hours and trips all across the country spanning roughly three years, East Tennessee State University professor Judy McCook has become one of the first fully-certified sexual assault nurse examiners in the East Tennessee region.

The SANE certification comes from the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN). SANE nurses receive specialized instruction in handling forensic care of patients.

McCook took the initial training in 2016, which involved 40 hours of instruction.

“Any nurse in an emergency can do a sexual assault kit,” she said. “Nursing organizations have established specialized training [like SANE]. […] Many nurses have completed it.”

However, this initial level was not enough for McCook, who said many nurses are often ill-equipped with out-dated information on how to respond to and care for victims of sexual assault or abuse.

Initially, she said she became interested in SANE after hearing the deficiencies of her department and co-workers.

“They told me they had sexual assault kits not being processed,” McCook said. “I have been certified as a high-risk prenatal nurse for 40 years, and my license was expiring in 2016.”

She therefore decided to take the plunge, and immediately after finishing the 40-hour course, she decided she wanted to keep going and started the three-year, 300-hour journey to certification.

Specifically, there are two different types of SANE certification. SANE-A deals with patients 14 and older, while SANE-P is for those younger than 18. They both have the same requirements.

Part of that 300-hour journey involved going to different places around the country and working with SANE-certified nurses and learning from them.

“It was great,” she said. “I talked to law enforcement and advocates. It was the best of all worlds.”

McCook said she took her certification exam in April and received the results in June.

This level of certification is rare, not just in East Tennessee, but nation-wide. The IAFN reported they had 1,140 registered SANE-A nurses and 465 registered SANE-P nurses as of the end of February.

She said this level of certification will allow her to testify in court with greater authority, as well as help them provide greater care of patients who need it.

“I am hoping we can take better care of patients in the healing process,” McCook said.

She said part of this desire to increase awareness and education is because of this community’s specific needs.

“We have some high-risk groups in this area,” she said. “We have LGBTQ groups here, as well as military.”

Within the LGBTQ community, she said among the B group, bisexuals, there is a significantly greater risk, though officials are not sure why.

According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, an American is sexually assaulted every 92 seconds, with an average of 321,500 victims every year, starting at age 12.

Of those, 54 percent of victims are between 18 and 24, with one out of six women experiencing sexual assault.

In a growing effort to reach out to and provide assistance for these people, McCook said others like her are set to receive their full certifications as well.

“Three people are testing in September,” she said. “Our goal is to provide 21 certified nurses over the next three years.”

As one of the first, she said she hopes to provide a good example for those who would follow.

“It is a mark of distinction,” McCook said. “What we need are SANE-certified nurses.”

McCook and others at ETSU are planning ways to expand access to SANE training and certification, including grants to send 10 nurses to the IAFN conference in New Orleans.

“They will get to mingle with nurses worldwide,” she said. “This informs nurses what the standards of care are.”

For those who may have need of their services in the future, for whatever reason, one of the biggest tips she gives to victims after the initial assault is to not change clothes, as it better preserves the evidence the nurse needs to collect as part of the forensic work.

“If they have been sexually assaulted, get to a safe place,” McCook said.

She gave a 24-hour advocate hotline for victims to call: 423-306-5169. The sooner they call, the sooner they can receive the treatment and care they need.

“I want this community to be safer for all men and women,” McCook said.

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