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20 ER nurses graduate program that aims to help victims of sexual assault

Amy Smith coordinates the SANE program at Hofstra

Amy Smith coordinates the SANE program at Hofstra and is a nurse practitioner at Northwell Health. Photo Credit: Northwell Health

Northwell Health said Wednesday that 20 emergency room nurses were certified as sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE), becoming the first class to graduate from the Hofstra Northwell School of Graduate Nursing and Physician Assistant Studies' SANE program.

A small, informal ceremony was held at the Northwell Health Center for Learning and Innovation in New Hyde Park on Wednesday to recognize the nurses’ achievements.

Their training took place over six months and included learning skills needed to provide emotional support and medical treatment to victims of rape and sexual assault while also collecting vital forensic evidence.

A SANE nurse is trained to help sexual assault survivors begin to heal, making sure they feel safe as they are treated in the emergency room. In a statement, Northwell said the lack of SANE nurses at hospitals often revictimizes those who have suffered a sexual assault by having them recount what happened to emergency room personnel, and then again to a nurse, physician or other clinician.

SANE nurses act as personal advocates, staying upward of six hours with their patients as they gain their trust, ask difficult questions, conduct physical exams to check for evidence and injury, provide emergency contraceptives and maintain evidence for law enforcement.

“This program is important for nursing to keep us evolving and growing so we work to the full breadth of our scope of practice,” said Amy Smith, a nurse practitioner at Northwell's LIJ Forest Hills and coordinator of the SANE program. “Having SANE nurses in our hospitals benefits all of the diverse communities we serve, so that no patient who seeks SANE services needs to be transferred out of our facilities and out of their neighborhoods.”

Northwell said that before the Hofstra/Northwell program was launched, nurses were trained to handle sexual assault patients through courses offered by the state Department of Health. 

From January 2018 to the present, 699 sexual assault victims were seen in Northwell Health emergency departments across the region.

The Hofstra Northwell SANE program includes 40 hours of classroom training and 300 hours of hands-on clinical training and is made possible through a $780,000 federal grant.

"There were sixteen of these grants awarded across the country," said Smith.

New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health, with 70,000 employees, is the largest private employer in New York State.

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