Nurses Head to Camp

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Summer camp activitiesCamp – it’s not just for kids. If the idea of a short (think a few weeks to a few months) gig appeals, consider rethinking how you spend the summer.

Camps have nurses on staff so they have a health professional ready to handle any medical issue that arises. Camp nurses have unique and integral roles in the camping community, and the job can be very different from roles in traditional clinical settings. But it’s not as niche as you might think – there are over 12,000 accredited camps out there that have nurses on staff, and there are plenty of organizations and resources just for camp nurses.

What it’s really like to be a camp nurse

Camp nurses have unique issues to consider in their roles, like the emotional strains of being away from home for younger campers, anxiety, and enuresis, or bedwetting. They also have a heightened focus on communicable diseases, like the flu, and infestations, like lice, which can spread quickly in a residential camp environment.

There are many different types of camps out there that need nurses on staff. Some of them center around religious or cultural identity, like Camp Seneca Lake in upstate New York, which celebrates Jewish culture, or Camp Marymount in Tennessee, which provides experience based on the Catholic faith. Some of them cater to specific population needs, like Wisconsin Lions Camp, for adults and children with specific physical disabilities. No matter what camp you’re at, as a nurse, your role will include administering routine medications and treatments, like prescriptions and antibiotics.

If your camp is focused on a certain type of sport or physical challenge, or serves a special needs population, you’ll need to be highly informed on the treatments most prevalent in that population or related to that activity. And even camp nurses in a general summer camp environment may be surprised at the prevalence of diabetes, asthma, and seizure disorders amongst campers.

You’ll also probably be the one to teach other staff members about basics like first aid, or how to do the Heimlich maneuver.

How to pick a camp – region, type, and reputation matter

Here are things to consider when choosing a camp:

  • Is it accredited by the American Camp Association? If it is, all of the campers are required to submit a health history and physical exam, which will help you know what types of issues you’re likely to face, and allow you to assess the physical and psychological needs of your population before camp even starts.
  • Where is it? Certain conditions you’ll deal with, like poison oak or Lyme disease are more prevalent based on location. Also, do you have a valid nursing license for the state the camp is in?
  • And as far as the environment, consider your comfort level with the number of campers you’ll have, how available other health professionals will be to you, and what the realities of being on-call all the time will look like. Depending on the camp’s size and location, you may have the ability to take breaks, or have another nurse cover certain times or act as backup. But it’s important to think through how you’d feel if the camp you worked for did not have these things, too.
  • And, finally, many summer camps have a cultural or religious component. Make sure you’re comfortable with that, before signing yourself up for 24/7 exposure.
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