Is Being a SANE Nurse Right for You?

Image of professional woman smiling at camera
Written by Ann Real, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
A SANE nurse works in a clinic.

Ever wondered about a career that merges medical expertise with unwavering support for survivors of sexual assault? Consider the role of a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE).

A SANE nurse is a highly specialized registered nurse trained to provide care to individuals who have experienced sexual assault or abuse. This profession blends empathy and expertise, presenting a unique opportunity to make a significant impact. If you’re contemplating stepping into this career, read ahead to learn about everything SANE nursing — responsibilities, salaries, job outlook, and places you can apply.

What Is a SANE Nurse?

SANE nurses are specialized professionals who assist victims of sexual abuse. Their responsibilities include conducting thorough forensic examination (known as a SANE exam), collecting evidence, providing medical care, offering emotional support, and collaborating with law enforcement and legal authorities.

SANE nurses shoulder responsibilities across three primary domains — medical, legal, and psychological — reflecting their steadfast commitment to providing survivors of sexual assault with a comprehensive and supportive care framework.

Medical responsibilities:

  • Conduct a thorough SANE exam to assess and document injuries.
  • Administer and coordinate appropriate medical interventions and treatments.
  • Collect forensic evidence using specialized techniques and tools.
  • Address and document the medical needs of survivors with precision and care.

Legal responsibilities:

  • Collaborate with law enforcement to provide accurate and timely information.
  • Document findings, ensuring all details are recorded for legal proceedings.
  • Serve as a liaison between healthcare and the legal system, contributing to the collection of evidence.
  • Prepare and provide expert testimony when required in legal proceedings.

Psychological responsibilities:

  • Offer emotional support to survivors throughout the care process.
  • Facilitate open communication to ensure survivors feel heard and understood.
  • Connect survivors with counseling services and resources to support their psychological well-being.
  • Navigate the delicate landscape of trauma, recognizing its psychological impact, and cultivate an environment that supports healing.

What Is a SANE Examination?

Here are some key components of SANE exams:

  • Assessment: Conducting a detailed physical examination to assess and document injuries or medical issues resulting from the sexual assault.
  • Forensic evidence collection: Collecting and preserving physical evidence, such as swabs from the survivor’s body, clothing, or other relevant items for potential legal proceedings.
  • History and documentation: Interviewing the survivor to gather information about the assault, and documenting details that may be important for medical treatment and legal purposes.
  • Prophylactic treatment: Offering prophylactic medications to prevent certain sexually transmitted infections or unwanted pregnancies, based on the survivor’s needs and choices.
  • Referrals and support: Providing emotional support and connecting survivors with counseling services and resources to support their psychological well-being.
  • Trauma-informed care: Conducting the exam in a trauma-informed manner, recognizing the sensitivity of the situation and working to minimize retraumatization

Forensic Nurse vs. SANE Nurse

SANE nurses focus on sexual assault cases, providing specialized care and support for survivors. In contrast, forensic nurses have a broader scope and can be involved in various legal cases beyond sexual assault, such as domestic violence or child abuse. Simply put, SANE nurses focus on healthcare and sexual assault, whereas forensic nurses apply their skills to a broader range of legal situations.

How Much Does a SANE Nurse Make?

The average SANE nurse salary in the U.S. is $75,064 per year. Your salary can vary based on several factors, including your certifications, years of experience, and educational background. Additionally, your geographic variations play a big role, with salaries often reflecting the cost of living in a particular region. Because of the shortage of SANE nurses, you can expect to find ample job opportunities.

The Pros and Cons of SANE Nursing

Supporting survivors on their healing journey and advocating for their rights are deeply fulfilling aspects of working in this field. Yet, like any profession, it comes with its own set of challenges.

Pros of SANE nursing:

  • Impactful contribution to healing: SANE nurses get to be the support system survivors need during a challenging time, making it a rewarding profession.
  • Holistic approach to care: This profession is multifaceted. SANE nurses address the physical, emotional, and legal needs of their patients.
  • Continuous learning: This job gives plenty of opportunities for continuous learning, including specialized training in forensic nursing and trauma-informed care.

Cons of SANE nursing:

  • Emotional toll and burnout: Dealing with the heavy emotional weight of sexual assault cases can be draining, which has the potential to lead to burnout and vicarious trauma.
  • Irregular working hours: Forget the 9-to-5 — SANE nurses often work on call, taking a toll on work-life balance.
  • Navigating legal proceedings: In this role, you may be required to testify as expert witnesses. Getting involved in legal proceedings isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

How to Become a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner

Becoming a SANE involves a series of steps that require a combination of education, clinical experience, specialized training, and certification. Here’s a general guide on how to step in to this profession:

1. Pursue Education and Licensure

First things first, become a registered nurse. Begin by earning a nursing degree from an accredited program. Afterward, pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to get your registered nurse (RN) license, as it forms the foundation for advanced nursing roles like SANE.

2. Gain Clinical Experience

Acquire hands-on experience in a clinical setting, honing your skills as a registered nurse. Working in an acute care, progressive unit, or ICU environment can be particularly valuable. Additionally, experience in psychiatric nursing can be helpful.

3. Explore Specialized Training Programs

Complete an accredited SANE nurse program. These programs often cover forensic nursing, trauma-informed care, and the specific protocols involved in conducting SANE exams.

4. Obtain SANE Nurse Certification

Pursue certification as a sexual assault nurse examiner. Certification adds credibility to your expertise and may be a requirement for many SANE positions. Here are some of the certifications to consider:

  • Sexual assault nurse examiner-adult/adolescent (SANE-A)
  • Sexual assault nurse examiner-pediatric (SANE-P)
  • Advanced forensic nursing (AFN-BC)

Where Do SANE Nurses Work?

SANE nurses, equipped with specialized skills in addressing the unique needs of sexual assault survivors, find opportunities for impactful work in various settings, such as:

  • Hospital emergency departments
  • Community health centers
  • Forensic nurse examiner programs
  • Private practices
  • Correctional facilities
  • Military health facilities
  • Sexual assault crisis centers
  • Telehealth services

Many SANE nurses are a part of SART. What is a SART? It’s short for sexual assault response team — a collaborative, multidisciplinary group that coordinates a comprehensive response to sexual assault cases. The team typically includes professionals from various fields, such as law enforcement, healthcare, and forensic services. This approach helps address the immediate needs of survivors, facilitates a thorough investigation, and promotes a more supportive and coordinated community response to combat sexual violence.

Ready to Become a SANE Nurse?

Now that you’ve learned about the speciality of SANE nursing, it might be time to take the next step in your career. IntelyCare is your matchmaker for the most fitting nursing opportunities. The job you are seeking is also seeking you. Get connected today and discover your perfect match.