Want to be a camp nurse? Ten basics to get you out there!
Parsh, Bridget EdD, RN, CNS
Known by her campers as “Apple,” Bridget Parsh is an associate professor of nursing at California State University in Sacramento, Calif.
The author thanks Lisa “Zuni” Shaffer and Christopher “Shredder” Leonardi from Shaffer's High Sierra Camp in Sierraville, Calif., for their expertise.
The author has disclosed that she has no financial relationships related to this article.
OUTDOORS, FRESH AIR, campfires, and nursing! Summer camps offering all these are available for just about every interest imaginable. Kids can choose from among a wide range of camps, such as ones focused on their own medical issues (for example, asthma, diabetes, or cancer), religion, sports, arts, or even astronautics. No matter whether the camp is in an urban, rural, or suburban location, being a camp nurse can be one of the most rewarding summer jobs around. So what qualities are camp directors seeking in the nurses they'll hire? Here are 10 basic requirements.
- Experience. Nursing experience in trauma, ED, or pediatric nursing is invaluable. Emergency medical services can be more than 1 hour away from some camps, so nurses must be prepared to manage any emergency.1
- Self-sufficiency. Camp nurses usually work alone, unless the camp is large or the kids have serious health conditions. At most camps, you won't find any fellow nurses, healthcare providers, unlicensed assistive personnel, or clinic assistants. Many camps lack even Internet and cell phone reception for support, so experience working independently can be extremely helpful. Camps typically provide some standing medical orders for certain situations. Take time to review these and the camp healthcare policies and procedures before you arrive.
- Professional responsibilities. Although camp nursing may seem like a break from the real world, camp nurses are required to provide routine and emergency care to campers, monitor their chronic conditions, collaborate with management to provide a healthy environment, educate staff about health concerns, and safely administer medications for those with acute and chronic health issues.2
- Emotional support. Providing a comfortable, open environment for campers to discuss health issues, homesickness, or any other concerns is vital. Camp life is hectic, so kids (and staff) may need a place to talk, rest, or just take a break.
- Caring for staff. Kids may not be your only patients. Camp counselors typically spend the entire summer working with kids, being outdoors, and running activities. Camp nurses support counselors who are away from their usual medical care for many weeks. Although the job description may include caring for only the campers, remember that the camp nurse may be the only healthcare professional available.
- Management skills. Camp nurses are in charge of the whole clinic. They need to be able to manage paperwork, anticipate health risks, and order health center supplies. For example, most camp health centers keep a supply of over-the-counter medications that need to be monitored and kept secure to avoid inappropriate ingestions.
- Flexibility. Although certain tasks must be done every day, they aren't always done at the same time each day. Fitting in a shower or rest break can be tough. Keeping the schedule flexible is a must.
- Documentation skills. Camp nurses manage health logs, medication forms, health histories, and physical assessment data. For example, on the first day of camp, the nurse screens each child for pediculosis capitis (head lice) and tinea pedis (athlete's foot), and reviews each child's health history and performs medication reconciliation.2 Organizing, recording, and administering medications require strong documentation skills.
- Knowledge of normal growth and development. For your trip to camp, pack a lot of patience along with an understanding of child development. Consider the developmental stage when working with kids. Some may need only an adhesive bandage and a little TLC.
- Being ready for anything. At camp, almost anything can happen, including asthma exacerbations, insect bites, allergic reactions, abrasions, lacerations, fractures, and other types of trauma. Common camp health center complaints include sore throats, homesickness, splinters, sprains, and upper respiratory tract infections.1,3,4 Be prepared for anything.
Ready for adventure?
Seventy-four percent of campers reported they'd tried new activities at camp that they were afraid to do at first, and most of them continued those activities after returning home.5 What about you? If you want to try something new, give camp nursing a try! Check out the Association of Camp Nurses website (http://www.acn.org), a professional nursing organization supporting the practice of camp nursing.6 Oh, and have fun!
1. Stephens CR. Camp health center usage at a Scout jamboree. Nursing. 2012; 42:(11):17–22.
2. Broussard L, Meaux J. Camp nursing: rewards and challenges. Pediatr Nurs. 2007; 33:(3):238–242.
3. American Camp Association. Accreditation Process Guide. Martinsville, IN: American Camp Association; 2007.
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