Barbara Kern-Pieh: Doing Good for as Long as She Can

“Wherever the art of Medicine is loved, there is also a love of Humanity.” – Hippocrates


As with all medical professionals, being a Forensic Nurse requires incredible strength, resilience, and compassion. However, this special group of healthcare workers face very difficult patient circumstances daily which includes sexual assault of adults and children, domestic abuse, and mistreatment of the elderly.


A division of those nurses, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs), have quite a heavy load to carry as the lines of medicine and law tend to intersect.


Barbara Kern-Pieh, RN CNM MSN SANE-P SANE-A, has dedicated her career being an advocate for these patients. She is often called on for her expert testimony on sexual assault and child abuse cases in Minnesota. Additionally, Barb volunteers her services for people deprived of receiving proper health screenings in developing areas of the world. Her church in Minnesota, Minnetonka United Methodist Church, sponsors her mission work to Panama each year.


“Some patients have traveled by horse to attend the mobile clinic. Others have walked for miles to be screened. At times there were up to 50 Panamanian neighbors waiting to see the medical team which had set up the mobile clinic in a mountain community school,” explained Barb. The clinic offers gynecological exams with labs then going to the public health center for that region. “Lines for the local health ministry were some of the longest lines I’ve seen since there are no appointments accepted,” said Barb.


Barb needs to be resourceful for these exams by utilizing a classroom for examinations, with a desk as the exam table. She wears a head lamp and uses a MedGyn Disposable LED Speculum during the screening process. “The lighted speculum is a great benefit while doing examinations,” said Barbara.  Being limited on resources, Barb has her patients place their feet on her legs as a substitution for stirrups.


Due to the Covid-19 pandemic this critical mission was canceled in 2021 and has been postponed until April of this year.


Recently, Barb was the first recipient of the Kim Day Service Award from the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) for her dedicated work as a forensic nurse, as well as her mission work in Panama. With a career spanning over 3 decades, her career-path led to working as a SANE for the past 18 years. Barb implements a trauma informed approach model of care for the patients she sees. This practice allows for a more sensitive service-based method to provide support to the survivors of sexual violence.


Barb graciously shares her nursing experience and knowledge to mentor other nurses as well and has done so throughout her career. She utilizes her leadership and compassion to train other SANEs in the impactful workload they carry each day. Although Barb has retired she maintains her licensing so she can continue doing good for as long as she can, and many people hope that will be for a very long time to come.