Texas A&M's Forensic Nurse program enhanced to help sexual assault victims

When a victim of sexual assault is brought to an examination room, its critical hospital staff know how to properly collect evidence. That's how the serial rapist who attacked Heather Tatom in 2001 was successfully prosecuted.

"I was lucky that I lived in a town where there was a Level 1 Trauma SANE ready hospital ready to take on my case," said Tatom.

Thursday, Tatom was in Round Rock with Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) and A&M Chancellor John Sharp to talk about the SANE Act. Congress passed the measure earlier this year to increase the number of sexual assault nurse examiners.

"Wherever you are, if you are a bad guy that’s listening, we will find you, because there is going to be a trained person in Forensics in even the smallest Texas towns before this is over with," said Sharp.

Currently, in Texas, there are only 500 nurses with the special certification. Tatom considers the A&M program a game changer.

"Absolutely. How could it not be?"

Tatum believes programs like this one in Round Rock will not just provide relief for victims of crime, but also for overworked nurses.

"If you could get more boots on the ground, more people to do this job, where they can ease the load a little, then there is not quite the burn-out," said Tatom.

A&M is also doing telemedicine training for its forensic nursing students. The idea is to bring that knowledge to rural and under-served communities.

"It keeps the patients in those communities, it keeps them attached to the resources that are in your communities, instead of having to drive to a large metropolitan area, navigate traffic, navigate a medical center when you are traumatized. We want to keep them in their communities where they have access to everything," said center director Dr. Stacey Mitchell.

Senator Cornyn said the telemedicine expansion is benefiting from the ongoing expansion of broadband. It was initially launched to help students with online learning during the pandemic.

"They were literally in a car in a parking lot with a hot spot or something like that trying to access the broadband for school. You're going to see expanded access to health care generally and this is just one example in this individual kind of case," said Sen. Cornyn.

The Rape Kit Testing Backlog Crisis a few years ago, according to Cornyn, is what motivated him to find a way to help enhance the funding for the Forensic Nurse program.