A Day in the Life of a Camp Nurse

By: Aaron Clouser RN BSN

It’s 8 am, you hear the loudspeaker outside “GOOOOODDDD MORNING CAMPERS!!! It’s Saturday, todays activities are…, Bunks 1-10 please have your laundry ready for pickup…”, and any other general announcements for the day.

But wait, who am I kidding? I’m a camp nurse, and I’ve been up for half an hour already. Those morning meds aren’t gonna prep themselves. I’m filling my wagon with inhalers and the bins of the countless allergy and PRN meds that my campers take. That’s right, I said MY campers.

You see, camp nursing isn’t just a job, it’s a commitment, it’s family, it’s being a nurse, a mom or dad, a mental health counselor, a calm voice in the panic, and a trusted professional; 24/7 for the duration of the summer.

Still with me? OK Great! Then you may want to think about exploring this rewarding opportunity that your nursing degree can offer you.

Let’s go on with our day. We packed the morning meds and head to the dining hall. Most bigger camps have a few nurses and sometimes a nurse aide, so this doesn’t have to be you every morning. In true fashion, the dining hall is chaos. You think having 2 hungry kids at home in the morning is hard, try 500! They flood in by bunk, previewing the days offering on their way to their table. You get a few coming for pre-meal meds, but all that most of them think about is their growling stomachs and all the activities they are doing that day. At some point in their meal, they stroll to the med table, wait in line, take their meds, and go about their day. Inevitably you will get a few that want to show you a new rash they found or a bug bite, just like your friends and family do in the real world. J

After breakfast, you pack up and head back to the health center. This is usually where the nurses live and work out of, and where sick campers stay overnight if needed. (Many camps offer private accommodations with air conditioning, TV, and internet for the nurses.) Then it’s time for clinic. My camp held clinic twice a day, after breakfast and before dinner. The camp doctor will come over and the nurses running clinic will triage the campers and decide who needs to see the doctor. Camps usually have protocols in place to allow nurses to treat common injuries, so not everyone has to see the doctor. Clinics can run 20 minutes to an hour, depending on how many campers come in. The complaints can run anywhere from runny noses to joint pain to rashes and colds. The doctor may write some prescriptions that need to be sent to the pharmacy, and some campers may have fevers and must stay in the health center. Clinic wraps up and things usually calm for the rest of the morning.

 

This is a great time for some leisure, and one of the best benefits of being a camp nurse. Camps encourage the nurses to use the facilities of the camp during their downtime. This could range from lake and pool activities, to arts and crafts, gymnastics, archery, and hiking. There is plenty of downtime during the days to read a good book, or simply enjoy nature.

While the on-duty nurse is at the health center, they typically see a few campers trickle in for ice packs or prn meds throughout the day, but this should not be a constant stream of kids. We would send many away and encourage them to come to next clinic, if still necessary. Remember, camp nursing is sometimes parenting. At home, you would tell your kid to walk it off, and not schedule a doctor appointment for every sniffle or pain. Same goes for camp! Of course, the broken bones or serious cuts are treated immediately, and can come in at any time. Your camp may be able to treat some, and others would have to be sent to the ER or out for an X-ray.

Lunch is typically light for medications, and the nurses can prep for dinner and night meds and relax during the afternoon. Every camp has their own system for medications. Mine had premade packets for each camper that came from an outside company, and we used paper MAR’s to keep track of them.

Before dinner, the clinic was open and ran the same as in the morning. Just like the doctor’s office or ER you worked in, you will have your “frequent flyers” and kids and counselors that just need reassurance that their bug bite will not turn them into a monster. The counselors come for treatment too. Many of them are from all over the world and they are usually in their late teens and twenties. Did I mention you’re parenting them too?  Dinner meds were typically similar to breakfast ones.

After dinner, most camps have some sort of evening activity. These range anywhere from a play put on by the campers, to outside entertainers like bands and magicians. This was always a fun time to immerse myself into the camp lifestyle, and really form a bond with the campers. Going back summer after summer, you see them grow and develop into young adults.

Night meds were done at the health center, and typically were low volume.  At night, one nurse is typically on call. You tuck in the overnight campers and make calls to parents if needed. Campers can come during the night with their counselors if they need to be seen. Usually this would only be for fevers or if someone woke up vomiting. There were nights where I slept straight through, and some where I’d be woken by the knock on my door a few times.

If you made it through the day with me, I’ll tell you a little more.

Camp nursing is awesome! What it isn’t is a vacation. There will be stress and times you question your sanity. Try it for a summer, you won’t regret it! It gets you out of the typical healthcare setting and exposes you to a side of nursing long forgotten. When I was travel nursing, my summers were spent at camp. 8 weeks away from call bells and sirens, making life long friends from around the world, and developing my sense of autonomy. Room and board included, I hardly spent any money the entire summer, and came back refreshed. I did everything from flight nursing, to ED and ICU, and still enjoy helping in between my full-time job on weekends at camp since 2006.

 

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