Q&A: Elisa Moyer, a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner

nurse holding patient's hand

Elisa Moyer, MBA, BSN, RN, CEN, SANE-A, was working as an emergency room (ER) nurse within the Lehigh Valley Health Network in Allentown, Pennsylvania, when she decided to pursue certification as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE). To help her prepare for the certification exam, Elisa enrolled in the Duquesne University School of Nursing SANE-Adult/Adolescent Training Program.

Funded by a Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant, Duquesne’s ANE-SANE-Adult/Adolescent Program provides advanced nurse education to increase the number of Registered Nurses who are trained and SANE certified. The program focuses on increasing service to rural and medically underserved areas and areas with a shortage of SANEs. At completion of the program, nurses apply and test for certification through the International Association of Forensic Nurses. After certification, nurses may continue to participate in ongoing education and mentoring.

In this Q&A, Elisa — who successfully passed the exam on her first try — shares why she decided to pursue SANE certification and how the training has helped her provide a higher standard of care for patients who have been sexually assaulted.

Why did you decide to pursue SANE certification?

I wanted to make sure that my practice remains relevant. In order to maintain certification, you must be aware of current practices and all aspects of sexual assault nursing. And so pursuing certification enabled me to maintain the best evidence-based practice possible and to stay relevant within my field.

Why did you choose the Duquesne University SANE Training Program?

I saw it as an opportunity to improve and renew my practice. Since the certification exam has a low passing rate, I also figured the extra support would be invaluable.

Did you feel well prepared for the certification exam?

Yes, definitely. I felt like this program puts you in that sit-down mode and prepares you for the questions you will come across during the exam. Plus, Duquesne offers monthly sessions that I still take part in for continuing education credits.

What have you been doing since earning your SANE certification?

I have actually changed positions. My hospital’s program is emergency-medicine based, so most of us are emergency room nurses. In January, I switched my focus to the exposures that patients may encounter and became an infection preventionist. I continue to practice as a sexual assault nurse, but my primary position now is in infection control.

Do you serve as a mentor at your facility?

Yes, I assist with educating and onboarding new sexual assault nurses. We highly encourage our nurses, especially our newer nurses who are interested in this type of nursing, to take Duquesne’s 40-hour didactic course. From there, I handle much of the education subsequent to that course to get them certified to practice on our hospital team.

We currently have 13 team members who practice per diem, and we are preparing to onboard more. We are fortunate that we can get a lot of our call times covered. Our team only requires a 24-hour call, but a lot of our nurses will go above and beyond that on a monthly basis.  

What is your vision or goal for the future?

I hope to help establish and solidify a full-time program at my network. Not just a nurse able to collect evidence, but a comprehensive center with a multidisciplinary approach that would enable us to link up with community partners, provide access to full-time counseling, have on-site providers able to perform physical assessments, and offer time and space to continue to monitor a patient.

Please don’t misunderstand me, my provider offers these services across different departments. I would just like to see it all centralized so that the survivor doesn’t have to go here, there and everywhere to get their care—my goal is to centralize it for them.

What would you say to someone who is considering becoming SANE certified?

I think it’s definitely a challenge worth undertaking. When I looked into becoming certified, I didn’t realize how broad the knowledge base would be. I think we all get siloed, and each state operates independent of one another. We are not standardized nationally, but the certification is through an international organization so it covers a broad base of knowledge.

When I received my passing score, I definitely did a happy dance. I think it further validated my practice. We come across some pretty horrible things when working with survivors, and I believe this certification offers nurses a renewed sense of purpose. We are a small piece of making a difference in their healing process.

How has the Duquesne University SANE Training Program helped you improve your care to patients of sexual assault?

It’s highlighted some aspects of my care that I never really knew I needed to refine. In sexual assault care, you kind of have a process you establish to make sure you’re not missing any critical components of delivering that care. I think through the certification process and the continuing education that is offered, I’ve taken important pieces of other individuals’ processes and incorporated them into my own to try to offer a more robust way of practicing.

What part of the program did you find most helpful?

The continuing education is the most helpful. The different topics presented each month have the most up-to-date data and way of practicing. I took the didactic course a few years ago. Since then, many of those teachings have been refined, so it brings to the forefront the most current practices and considerations.

Do you have anything else to add?

For those still on the fence of “Should I pursue this career option,” I would say, yes. You do not have to be an ER nurse to pursue this option; there are many nurses in different walks of life who should consider this. Take the time to research exactly what a SANE does to determine if this type of nursing is for you. It carries not only a lot of trauma from the survivor’s standpoint, but it can carry trauma for the health care worker as well. 


The Duquesne University School of Nursing SANE-A Training Program is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an award totaling $1,469,650 with no financing by non-governmental sources. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.

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