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Nurse Creates SAFE Haven for Patients of Sexual Violence

February 23, 2017
Growing up in a family of nurses, Ashley McAree, RN, FNE-A/P, CFN, knew from a young age that she was interested in a nursing career. But it wasn’t until she was working as a psychiatric nurse on GBMC’s Medical Psychiatric Unit that she made an eye-opening connection: many of her patients had a history of being sexually assaulted or abused in childhood. The issues seemed so pervasive that Ashley wondered if working with patients during their healing process, right after an attack, might prevent future victims from ending up in a psychiatric unit down the road. “My supervisor at the time was a Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) nurse and she encouraged me to go through SAFE training myself,” Ashley said. “That’s when I knew it was my calling and it truly became my passion.”

Ashley is one of seven forensic nurses in GBMC’s SAFE program who specializes in pediatrics, a field she was initially anxious about, as she worried working with children would be too emotionally demanding. Program Manager Laura Clary, RN, FNE-A/P, SANE-A, CFN, CPEN, who suggested she be certified in pediatrics, helped her feel more comfortable. “Laura is very supportive. She goes at your pace – she doesn’t push,” Ashley said. “I started attending different trainings with her and seeing the great work we can do for kids and the important evidence we collect."
"It took a little while, but seeing the rewards and the impact on the kids and parents was significant.”

That doesn’t mean working with children who have been sexually abused gets any easier. Ashley cries with her patients and often thinks of them when she’s not at work, but she doesn’t view this as a flaw. “I’ve begun to think that being such an emotional person, which I initially thought would be a drawback, actually helps,” she says. “I am able to get on a patient’s level, show how much I care, and most importantly, that I believe them. They may not have been believed by others in the past; showing that I accept and believe them really helps them begin to heal.”

Despite the emotional difficulty, certain moments make it all worthwhile. Ashley recalls a particular young patient whose story sticks with her: “She was terrified, understandably so – of the hospital, the police, and really scared of me,” Ashley says. “She wouldn’t speak or even look at me. I gave her a lot of time and tried to make her as comfortable as possible. During the exam, I let her put on her favorite music, and we chatted – about friends, about school, and I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She wasn’t sure. Later, as she was leaving, she stopped me and said, ‘I know what I want to be now – a forensic nurse.’ She gave me a huge hug. I will remember her forever.”

Join Ashley and the rest of the SAFE team as they shatter the stigmas of rape, sexual assault, domestic abuse, and intimate partner violence on April 21, 2018 at GBMC’s third annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®.

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