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Program to nearly double amount of nurses in state trained in caring for sexual violence survivors


An initiative led by the Michigan State University College of Nursing will nearly double the state’s number of qualified nurses who can assess and treat survivors of sexual violence in the next three years.

The program — funded by a three-year, $1.43 million federal grant — will begin in January and focus on ensuring more registered nurses have their Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) certification, particularly in rural areas. SANE-certified nurses have specialized knowledge and clinical preparation in sexual assault and abuse cases.

Currently, the state has 175 SANE-certified nurses; however, they are concentrated in only 22 of the state’s 83 counties. This program will train an additional 130 nurses who are already employed in communities across the state, ensuring rural areas have access to these services.

“This is an important project for the state of Michigan, and our university is committed to helping provide more highly trained sexual assault nurses to all communities,” said MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. “I’m proud we could part of this effort, and I thank the federal government for the grant, our College of Nursing for their leadership and collaboration with campus experts on this opportunity.”

Dr. Katherine Dontje (pictured), the project’s lead and an associate professor at the MSU College of Nursing, said this initiative is a natural fit for MSU to lead.

“Access to trained, trauma-informed health care professionals is still a significant issue for survivors, with many having to drive great distances to find a SANE-certified nurse,” Dontje said. “This initiative strengthens our existing efforts to find solutions for access to prompt, compassionate services for survivors of sexual assault.”

Participants will engage in online coursework, an in-person clinical workshop and be paired with a mentor for additional clinical hours and experiences to meet the certification requirements. Dontje said she believes the college’s commitment to helping organize all three components is what helped it land the grant, which is up for renewal after each year. She noted getting certified can be difficult for some nurses, who have issues securing additional clinical hours and placements, especially in rural areas.

The college has worked closely with Dr. Rebecca Campbell, a professor in the MSU College of Social Science and advisor to the president on RVSM issues, to write the grant and she will serve as the project’s research evaluator. The project will include several partners across the university, including the Michigan Center for Rural Health and the MSU Center for Survivors. In addition, the university will work with state agencies, including the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, to ensure the right people and areas receive the training, which, typically, takes two years to complete.

The effort is a natural extension of the university’s recently announced Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct strategic plan, which aims to increase help-seeking rates and decrease the incidence of RVSM by developing trauma-informed, intersectional programs to address the needs of MSU’s diverse communities. 

“SANE programs are a critical resource for sexual assault survivors’ health and well-being,” said Campbell. “We look forward to working with our partners at MSU and throughout Michigan to develop quality clinical training opportunities to address the national shortage of SANE providers.”

College of Nursing Dean Randolph F.R. Rasch said the college is proud to be leading the way in connecting rural communities with skilled nurses.

“The MSU College of Nursing is focused on creating positive change in healthcare outcomes locally, nationally and globally,” Rasch said. “Training SANE-certified nurses to be available in more counties throughout the state has the possibility to improve the lives of countless Michiganders.”