There are no Black nurses trained to administer sexual assault exams at Betsy Johnson Hospital in North Carolina, where Sharita Goodwin works. But Goodwin and Fayetteville State University are working to change that.
Fayetteville State University, an HBCU, has just launched its first program to train sexual assault examiners. As a part of the training, nurses will be taught how to treat patients in crisis, collect forensic evidence, and prevent sexually transmitted infectons and pregnancy, according to NBC News.
Black Americans are underrepresented in nursing overall. According to the Journal of Nursing Regulation, in 2020, less than 7 percent of registered nurses in the United States were Black.
The disparities are particularly evident when it comes representation. Nurses trained to treat sexual assault patients are overwhelmingly white, Jennifer Pierce-Weeks, CEO of The International Association of Forensic Nursing, told NBC News. However, Black women and girls experience higher rates of sexual assault than white women.
Having someone who looks like you in the most vulnerable moments of your life can be incredibly comforting to patients, explains Goodwin.
“It makes you feel a little bit more comfortable,” Godwin, 36, told NBC News “The patient might be more willing to open up.”
Although the program at Fayetteville is starting small, its director Dr. Sheila Cannon, associate dean of the nursing school, says dozens more students have signed-up for the training.
She told NBC News that by the fall, she expects to have trained 60 to 80 nurses. Priority for those slots will be given to students from North Carolina.
The school received $1.5 million in appropriation from the state legislature for the program after a report last year revealed that many rural hospitals did not have a single nurse trained to perform sexual assault examinations and treatment.
Working with patients in peak crisis can be incredibly taxing, Cannon told NBC News. But she hopes that having more nurses trained on how to work with sexual assault patients will help avoid burnout.
“You know why it’s emotionally draining? It’s only one person serving one hospital,” Cannon told NBC News. “If you have more supply, and you have a person stationed in every ER — more than one — it’s not going to be too taxing on that person.”