Improving learner and provider knowledge and confidence in caring for survivors of sexual assault

Three women in white coats holding resource cardsThe rate of sexual assault among American women is around 25%, and 16% for men. Sexual assault includes any coercive sexual act, including rape and unwanted touching. Kylene Daily, Jacelyn Greenwald and Sabrina Mackey-Alfonso, students in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, have a message for survivors: This isn’t your fault. Come in and let us care for you.

They also have a message for fellow students, residents and providers across Ohio State: We want you to feel better equipped to deliver trauma-informed care to victims of sexual assault. “People can initially be nervous talking with a survivor because they worry they will say the wrong thing or they don’t know how to help,” Mackey-Alfonso, a second-year student in the MSTP, says. “They also might not know all the resources available.”

That is about to change. This dynamic trio has developed resource cards that provide examples of validating and caring phrases to say to survivors, such as “I believe you,” “This is not your fault,” “You are brave for telling me” and “This is a common reaction to trauma; I have seen this in other patients.” The cards also include state and national resources for legal assistance, community shelters and intimate partner/sexual assault hotlines and agencies, including information about RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.

“Our job is to listen to, believe and care for the patient,” Greenwald, a second-year student in the MSTP, says. “And to ensure survivors are not re-traumatized by those trying to help.”

Their goal is to have a resource card clipped to every provider ID badge or in the pockets of providers across Ohio State. That way they are better equipped when a survivor of sexual assault comes to them for care. Having the resources on hand could influence the level of care and impact survivors’ overall recovery.

“Research shows that supportive and non-judgmental responses from clinicians empower sexual assault survivors to deliver an accurate medical history and pursue resources and follow-up care,” Daily, a sixth-year student in the MSTP and a fourth-year student in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program, says.

The idea for the pocket-sized cards was born out of the many requests for resources they received from medical students after they created and began teaching a team-based learning module that provided evidence-based, whole-person care and support for survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence.

Mackey-Alfonso and Greenwald spent a considerable amount of time vetting resources to be included on the cards, and even more time in the student resource room laminating and cutting hundreds of cards by hand. But they needed a better way to produce them on a large scale to deliver them to students, faculty and providers, so Daily reached out to college leadership. Financial support from the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center and Ohio State’s Women in Medicine alumni network made possible the professional printing of 2,000 cards for providers across Ohio State.

This momentum has encouraged the group to apply for a 501(c)(3) tax exemption, to qualify as a charitable organization.

The idea to better prepare students and providers to be more adept at helping survivors heal has been more than well received by the countless students and faculty who are already using the cards in their practice. When alumni from the University of Virginia saw a Twitter post about the cards, they reached out to the group for advice on how they could share similar cards on their campus.

A study outlining the College of Medicine’s integration of their effective sexual assault and intimate partner violence curriculum and its effects was published in the June 14, 2021, issue of the journal Academic Psychiatry, and will be presented to a national audience at the Association of American Medical Colleges’ Lead Serve Lead virtual conference in November 2021.