The first time Glenda Guzman examined and collected evidence from a rape victim who came into the emergency room, she was two months out of college and, though she had been trained as a physician assistant, she says she was woefully unprepared for the weighty task.
"I was reading the instructions out of a box," recalled Guzman, a certified Emergency Medicine Physician Assistant, at the time, working at Queens Hospital Center. It was 1995 and Guzman was treating a woman who had been brutally raped by a gang, but Guzman's education had not included instruction in how to collect evidence from a rape victim. "She had had a horrible experience and she deserved better," Guzman said. "I felt so terrible. I vowed that this would never happen again."
She went to her supervisor and lobbied for specialized training. In time she and other Emergency Department clinicians got special instruction in how to deal with sexual assault victims, and Guzman had found her life's work. Today she is the Program Coordinator of the Sexual Assault Response Team, or SART, at Elmhurst Hospital Center and Queens Hospital Center, where she leads a team of 18 specially trained forensic examiners who are experts in properly identifying, collecting and packaging forensic evidence, and accurately documenting injuries to the patient. The team also works with rape crisis counselors and social workers to attend to the emotional needs of sexual assault victims.
"In a short time, the examiner has to connect with the victim and make her feel comfortable," Guzman said. "It's not easy when you have been brutally raped, so it takes a very special kind of medical provider to make the victim feel safe. She's already been stripped of her dignity. We want to make sure while she's under our care, there's no further indignity."
To help educate the public about its special services, the Sexual Assault Response Team produced a video featuring some of their examiners, including Guzman, explaining the kinds of care they provide for sexual assault victims.
"A key part of the work we do is gather forensic evidence that helps law enforcement officials prosecute rapists," said Guzman, adding that men as well as women are victims of sexual assault. They coordinate with the NYPD Special Victims Unit and the District Attorney’s Office when the victim elects to press charges. Though Guzman has lost count of the number of sexual assault victims she’s examined over her career, it’s a source of pride that, thanks to her team’s thorough forensic gathering prowess, "many perps are off the street," she said.
SART, also known as the SAFE (Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner) Program, was launched in 2005 as part of Mayor Bloomberg's initiative to bring cutting edge forensic and counseling services for sexual assault victims to all public hospitals. All 11 HHC acute care hospitals in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens have been designated by the New York State Department of Health as SAFE Centers of Excellence, where sexual assault victims receive sensitive care within one hour of their arrival.
"What Glenda will not say," explained Rebecca Carman, a social worker on Guzman’s team and Guzman’s right hand since 2006, "is that she is available 24-hours a day, 7 days a week not only to assist rape victims, but to consult with her examiners on any special cases. She’s not a 9 to 5 employee. It’s thanks to her leadership that this is a cutting edge program staffed with heroes."
Guzman has a Bachelor’s Degree in Physician Assistant Studies from Long Island University-Brooklyn Hospital and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration in Healthcare from Mercy College. She says working in the Elmhurst ER’s fast-paced environment at the beginning of her career was an excellent training ground.
In 2011, the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault awarded Guzman the Lydia Martinez Collaboration Award for her excellent work providing care to victims of sexual violence.
When not at work, Guzman, 44, enjoys spending time with her parents, brother, nieces and nephews. She runs and works out several times a week for good health and to decompress, she said.
"My goal in life is to always give back—especially to women," she said. "If I get a hug from a patient and a thanks after she’s experienced something so brutal–-it’s that gratitude that keeps me going."