It took one job as a women's health nurse practitioner in a Washington state college town for Trisha Sheridan to recognize the need for forensic nurses.
Sheridan, who now works at Scott & White and as an assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing, is leading an effort to bring more certified forensic nurses, trained to care for victims of sexual assault and collect evidence, to Bryan-College Station.
"You see it every day. People don't talk about vaginas, let alone sexual assault," Sheridan said. "To know that [sexual assault] is so prevalent and that the community doesn't want to talk about it, that's what drives me. It happens and it happens all the time."
In Texas, a person is sexually assaulted every hour, according to the Department of Public Safety. Sheridan said she conducts one forensic exam per week while Sexual Assault Resource Center Director of Center Programs Alaina Jalufka said the center provides accompaniments for at least three sexual assault victims for exams at local hospitals each month. The center served 427 survivors of sexual assault in 2013.
Sheridan, who said she is the only nationally certified and practicing forensic nurse in the county, coordinates the forensic program in College Station based on a similar effort at the Scott & White hospital in Temple. The local program has five trained nurses working toward certification, which requires more than 100 hours of combined clinical and didactic training and includes instruction on testifying in court.
Not only does the program create a "bridge between law enforcement and the patient," it also helps save money when nurses collect the appropriate evidence, making prosecution easier, Sheridan said.
The state of Texas spends more than $42 million on services for adult victims of sexual assault each year, according to a 2010 University of Texas study.
Since September, all hospitals with emergency rooms have been required to have staff with basic training in collecting forensic evidence, but certified sexual assault nurse examiners, or forensic nurses, have more rigorous standards to meet.
While the College of Nursing offers a forensic nursing elective online, it is looking to expand to have a department dedicated to forensic training and research in the future.
Until then, Sheridan said, nursing students can apply to volunteer with SARC or Scotty's House to shadow forensic nurses and work toward certification once they have at least two years of experience as a registered nurse.