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Barbara Osborne

MSN ’11, DNP ’15

Barbara Osborne, MSN ’11, DNP ’15

Committed to Care: 7 / 24 / 365

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a campaign to build public awareness of sexual violence and educate communities on strategies for prevention. Within Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, the Philadelphia Sexual Assault Response Center serves survivors of sexual assault every month of the year. Offering free services and open 24 hours a day, the Center is the only one of its kind in Philadelphia. Barbara Osborne MSN ’11, DNP ’15, associate chair of the Department of Advance Practice Nursing, is the Center’s director.

“In my career as a women’s health nurse practitioner, I saw an unfortunate amount of sexual assault in my patients’ histories,” says Osborne. “I had experience caring for survivors and connecting them with other services, so when the opportunity arose for me to become director of the Philadelphia Sexual Assault Response Center, it was a natural next step.”

Osborne underscores that the Center isn’t just for women. Says Osborne, “Just as sexual assault occurs in all sectors of our community, the Center helps patients of all backgrounds and of all gender identities. All patients are welcomed here.”

Fostering a model in which survivors receive attentive, personalized care is a key priority. “Traditionally,” says Osborne, “survivors of sexual assault present to the emergency room. The patient may not require medical attention for a life-threatening injury, so they often wait for extended periods of time. Imagine what that’s like for someone who's just undergone a horrific trauma.” At the Center, patients have a specially-trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) devoted to their cases.

Says Osborne, “Our SANE nurses are highly skilled in this area of care and have received training in medical evaluations, forensics collections and delivering trauma-informed care. They aren’t pulled in different directions caring for multiple patients but can provide one-on-one care, and that can be a meaningful moment in a patient’s recovery.”

The Center’s patient-focused model also aims to give survivors a renewed sense of autonomy. Says Osborne, “Patients are in charge of their visit and can partake in as few or as many of our services as they want. We hope the Center is a first stop in the process of healing, so we offer to connect patients with legal advocates and mental health professionals.”

Continues Osborne, “We’re also located next to the Philadelphia Police Department’s Special Victim’s Unit, so that patients can report their story to a detective and then simply come down a hallway to be seen by our nurses. But we see patients regardless of their intent to report – bottom line, our focus is to serve those who seek our help.”

For Osborne, the College of Nursing and Health Professions is a natural home for the Center. “It comes back to our model where the nurse is the main driver of a patient’s care,” she says.

In a typical year, the Center serves about 365 patients, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, patient numbers have declined. “The decrease we’re seeing is also happening in emergency rooms across the country,” says Osborne, “and it’s been assumed that survivors of assault are avoiding seeking help for fear of contracting the virus. But the Center is safe place to visit during this pandemic – our staff follow all the COVID-19 precautions, we do extra cleaning, and patients don’t need to worry about a crowded waiting room.”

A majority of sexual assaults go unreported, so Osborne knows more people could benefit from the Center’s help. “I want survivors of sexual assault – and the whole community – to know our services are free and that every patient will be cared for whether or not they choose to report it,” says Osborne. “We’re here 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year for every survivor. That’s our commitment.”