Experience with domestic violence prompts nurse to train trauma victims

Published 5:49 pm Monday, August 21, 2023


The Daily Yonder

Leslie Copp, a nurse who grew up in a family with domestic violence, hopes to use a scholarship from the Pat Tillman Foundation to help provide more services to victims of trauma in rural Indiana.

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Copp is an online graduate student at Frontier Nursing University located in Versailles, Kentucky. Her nursing work includes caring for trauma victims and gathering evidence for prosecutors. She wants her graduate education to help her specialize in trauma care and establish trauma care centers in rural communities like her hometown of Odon, Indiana.

“In Indiana alone there are wide areas where there’s no resources or care for victims of trauma or violence,” she said in an interview with the Daily Yonder. “My goal is to start with one (rural trauma care center) and plant it in a place that has the widest area of no coverage, so that we can at least start providing medical exams (for trauma victims) and point people in the right direction.”

Copp was one of 60 U.S. military members, veterans, and military spouses who were awarded scholarships by the Pat Tillman Foundation this year.

Tillman was a professional football player who left the NFL after the 9/11 attacks to serve in the U.S. Army. He died in the war in Afghanistan in 2004.

Copp was eligible to apply for the scholarship as the spouse of a soldier, Army Sgt. First Class Justin Copp.

The Tillman award allows recipients to pursue higher education in healthcare, business, law, public service, STEM fields, education, and the humanities. The average scholarship is $10,000 a year, according to the foundation’s website.

Copp said she intends to pursue a doctorate in nursing practice and to become a mental health nurse practitioner.

Copp started her career in nursing as a Certified Nurse Assistant in high school and later earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing. She realized she enjoyed taking care of trauma victims and helping as a forensic nurse to collect evidence to assist in prosecuting abuse cases. She said she feels born to work as a forensic nurse examiner.

“I was raised at the very first of my life in a home where I dealt with watching my mother go through domestic violence,” she said. “I didn’t realize that the trauma that I had been through as a young adult would set the base for something that I would grow to love. I turned my trauma into something that I could do to help others.”

Rural hospitals typically can’t provide the specialized services that trauma patients need, Copp said, and staff can lack training to gather the evidence needed for criminal cases. Victims often have to leave a rural hospital to get what they need at a larger hospital, she said.

“What we’re seeing is that (rural trauma) patients will try to come to the metropolitan area, but they’re too late for evidence collection,” she said. “The patients will just give up. They won’t even attempt to try to go to a metropolitan area even if they could. They’ve been through an exhausting ER visit and they don’t want to go have another one.”

Even if they are seen by a nurse in a metropolitan area, the patients can find themselves lost in the system without access to resources like trauma therapy, advocacy services, and support systems, she said.

Copp’s goal is to create a trauma center in a rural area that could both do medical exams and help victims gain access to social workers, prosecutors, and emergency housing.

She said trauma centers can take a burden off law enforcement. “[Police] can have more time on the street doing what they need to be doing to keep the community safe while we’re doing the back work,” she said. “We can take the photos, collect and bag the evidence and get it to the crime lab.”

Frontier Nursing University Assistant Professor Dr. Joshua Faucett, who is also a Pat Tillman Foundation scholarship winner, said Copp’s experience as a nurse and violence survivor made her a good candidate for the scholarship.

“Leslie had a compelling story to tell but didn’t know it,” Faucett said in an email interview with the Daily Yonder. “Much of Leslie’s identity was tied to her role as a military spouse. I reminded Leslie that being a military spouse was what qualified her to apply to be a Tillman Scholar, but would not set her apart from other applicants with similar backgrounds. Leslie is a sexual assault nurse examiner and has testified on behalf of sexual assault victims to bring their abusers to justice. This is the story the Tillman Foundation needed to hear.”

Faucett said his own Tillman Foundation scholarship played a critical role in his doctoral research into veteran suicide risk reduction at Yale University. That work reached more than 20,000 veterans and their friends and family members.

“Without the Tillman Foundation, I would not be a nurse, nurse practitioner, or professor,” Faucett said. He said the foundation paid for his education, professional development, and gave him access to other scholars.

“We can now add Leslie Copp to this list of incredible people. I cannot wait to see what she accomplishes.”

Copp said she intends to use the scholarship money to help fund the rest of her education, and to use the network it provides to help launch her idea from dream to reality.

“There are wide areas of rural Indiana where there’s no resource and no care for victims of trauma or violence,” she said. “My goal is to start with one (rural trauma care center) … and hopefully then be able to branch out to more of those in rural settings so that patients are getting the care that they need in a timely manner.”