April marks the annual observation of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The campaign encourages everyone to speak up to prevent sexual violence in neighborhoods, communities, workplaces and schools. Established by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, the campaign encourages groups to educate locally by exploring common behaviors of victims and offering suggestions on responsible ways to intervene.
Catherine Strain, a registered nurse in the emergency department at Centennial Medical Center, acts as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) and holds a Certified Forensic Nurse license to help care for patients. SANEs are registered nurses specifically trained to provide comprehensive care to sexual assault survivors, conduct and evaluate forensic exams, collect evidence and provide expert courtroom testimony, along with showing compassion and sensitivity to survivors of sexual assault. She is one of only eight SANEs that service Collin County and the only SANE for Grayson County.
Here, Catherine shares her desire to help victims of sexual assault and what keeps her devoted after more than four decades of nursing.
How long have you been a nurse and what led you to this career?
I’ve been a nurse for 38 years. I started at Centennial in January 2008, but I’m from the Dallas area, so I’ve worked at other hospitals here. I decided to go into nursing when I was about 15. It’s the one thing that I wanted to do. I started looking at colleges and how I could get there, and I decided on nursing. I attended nursing school at Texas Woman’s University.
What is the most rewarding thing about being a nurse?
My ability to do bedside nursing. I love making the patients feel better and teaching them about what’s wrong. I like helping them wrap their minds around why they are in the hospital. I usually work three, 12-hour shifts each week, so I probably interact with 30 or 40 patients each week. It’s ever-changing. I like working in the emergency department; you can see all varieties of patients and practice lots of specialties. I think it’s diversity I like the most.
Using your SANE training, what sort of special care do you provide to sexual assault victims?
I’m a contract worker for Collin County, which allows me to go to hospitals and provide services to women, men and children who are victims of sexual assault. Not only do I perform forensic medical exams, I also do a lot of teaching. If you’re an adolescent victim, you are visiting the hospital to make sure you’re okay on all levels. Teaching victims about body parts, what’s appropriate and when to tell someone if something has happened are all important parts of care. This isn’t an easy process for a child or adult to recover. They need reassurance, and I can help reward them for telling someone and getting help.
What made you want to focus on this type of patient care?
There was a case back in the early ‘70s when I was still in nursing school. There was a victim of sexual assault that was a patient at the hospital where I was working. She was brutally disfigured and brutally attacked. None of the nurses felt comfortable taking care of her after what she’d been through. I couldn’t get it out of my mind that this was a patient who needed our attention. I made my decision then that as soon as I could, I would work with sexual assault victims. In 2004, I found an opportunity to get involved with a rape crisis center.
Are there any special projects you’re working on right now?
Currently, I’m working with the Grayson Children’s Advocacy Center, because Grayson County doesn’t have a sexual assault team. I’m working with the hospitals in that area to establish a program that will allow patients to meet with a SANE locally, instead of having to travel to another county to get the specialized care.
We are also celebrating the 10th year of the Collin County sexual assault team. The Turning Point, Collin County’s rape crisis center, is a group of medical professionals, counselors and social workers who provide care after the trauma. They can provide everything from counseling to legal advocacy to donations like new clothing. We will be hosting a program with Collin County Community College this month to honor Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
What advice would you give to someone will be studying nursing?
What a wonderful vocation you have chosen! Unlike some other careers, you have so many options that are open to you. From pediatrics to gerontology, and surgical nursing to home-based care, it never gets stale.