This second episode of the “Workforce Resiliency” mini-season of the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ’s) Just Science podcast series is an interview with Dr. Cara Berg Raunick, a women’s health nurse practitioner and the Director of Clinical Quality and Advancement at Health Care Education and Training, who discusses vicarious trauma experienced by sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs).
A preparatory note for the interview defines “vicarious trauma” as “the cognitive changes someone experiences after witnessing traumatic events.” This is often experienced by SANEs, who provide care to victims of sexual violence. Dr. Raunick advises that the ramifications of SANEs experiencing vicarious trauma could have adverse impacts on medical forensic examinations. In her interview, Dr. Raunick discusses the effects of such vicarious trauma in her own life, along with her research findings on this issue. She has a doctorate as a trained nurse practitioner whose focus has been women’s health and sexual medicine. She started her nursing career as a SANE nurse. She identifies three components of vicarious trauma: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization or cynicism, and a decreased sense of personal accomplishment. For the SANE, such vicarious trauma stems from obtaining detailed histories of an assault in the acute aftermath of the assault. This includes hours of one-on-one interaction with the patient-victim. Based on research that analyzes the causes and treatment of vicarious trauma, measures must be in place to ensure that forensic nurses are supported and have developed coping strategies that prevent deterioration into incapacitation and burnout in work performance. This can be manifested as decreased empathy, distancing from patients, and separation from peers and colleagues. Support from managers of SANE programs and training in constructive coping strategies helps mitigate work-related psychological distress.