10 camp lessons.
I have learnt many lessons about camp nursing. It is a speciality with a steep learning curb, and a distinct lack of information. AllNurses is one of the premiere sources of guidance for camp nurses, I hope this article helps build upon an already good foundation.
My first year as a camp nurse I spent hours learning everything I could about my new job. I read the book, looked at all the websites, and browsed every forum. I was disappointed to find so little information on camp nursing. I have come to realize there are several reasons behind the lack of information.
First, there are no experts! The truth is that very few camps have full-time nurses and a lot of camps don't have many returning staff. Even those who do generally only continue camping until their life circumstances prevent them from returning. The result is that most nurses don't log enough time to really consider themselves experts.
Second, the differences in camps make complete expertise impossible; each camp is different. The practice of nursing at each particular camp has evolved to suit the particular needs of that camp. There are some similarities in practice however, an expert can really only be an expert on their particular camp, or camps with similar design and culture.
I won't claim to be an expert, because I don't think anyone can claim to be an expert on the totality of camp nursing. I am starting my third year of camp nursing. I work at a large summer camp, we keep our kids for the entire summer, and have no special needs considerations besides some ADD. These are 10 lessons I have learnt along the way. I hope they can help you.
1. Preparation is key, every minute of preparation you do before the campers arrive is worth an hour of headache later. Some things can't be accomplished until the kids arrive, but make sure everything that can be done is done. Make sure the health histories are filled out, insurance cards are copied, medication records and inventory are as complete can possibly be, and files are actually in alphabetical order. Make sure your camp first aid kits are stocked and emergency response plans are made and understood.
2. You're stuck with these people, better make the best of it. I spent half of my first summer being angry at one of my coworkers. They weren't the best employee, liked to stay out late drinking, return at all hours of the night, waking me up in the process. They couldn't do laundry or dishes. The nurse was profoundly unhappy at camp, and for about a month made me unhappy too. At about the half way mark I realized, it's actually pretty hard to get fired. No camp is going to discard an able body, and my boss was right, a poor coworker was better than a missing one. So I got some ear plugs, put on my big boy pants and just put up with it when I had to. I did my best to enjoy my job, and not focus on what I couldn't change. I wish I had done this from the start.
3. Your going to think about leaving. My first year, when I was miserable, I seriously contemplated just getting in my car and driving off. I was in a strange place, with people I didn't like, at a job I wasn't familiar with, and all this for less pay than I could make just three hours away at home. Camp is hard, and your going to want to leave. In my opinion, that's normal. Just don't leave, that's cruel to your coworkers.
4. Make low friends in high places. My second year I became friends with the kitchen, and my life changed. Suddenly I got fed, not just leftovers but real food. The health center meals got delivered on time. I also had friends for times that I was off shift. The kitchen and the nurses should, in my opinion, be fast friends. We are both in a support role at camp, we both have odd hours, and we both don't room with children. I also inherited a friend in the office, and I never couldn't find a pen again, my copies actually got done, and I got my license renewal paid for (I work in the state year round, not like the other nurses who had to travel, but he submitted it, and they paid it). I was nice to the shopper and didn't have to make the 30 minute drive into town to buy a new tooth brush when I dropped mine in the toilet. I gave her money and asked her to get it on her daily travels. I thought that I would be playing games and doing camp stuff all summer, and to an extent I did, but my friends in the other support departments make my job easier, and are all around cool people.
5. Don't make enemies! My first year the new doctor, who was only there for a week, made a big stink to the camp directors that the health center was not being cleaned enough. In her opinion all floors and common surfaces should be cleaned daily. This led to a meeting with the maintenance/cleaning team. That meeting was the last time we saw the cleaning team that year. Camp is only 8 weeks, which is plenty of time to hold a grudge. Don't make people mad when you don't have to, especially if you rely on them to make your job easier. We mopped our own floors for the rest of the summer, for which the doctor who caused the ruckus was not present anyway.
6. Know your strength and your weakness. I have a pretty strong dislike of talking on the phone. I have a blunt personality, that only about 30% of the world finds charming, and I would rather clean vomit off the floor than sit in a chair at a desk. All these things are reasons I make a bad charge nurse. All of these things are why I have only charged when there is a gun to my head. I'm not that good at it, I will help you with it, but it is not my strength. I like big projects with goals. Want all the first aid kits restocked, medications inventoried, a room reorganized? I'm your guy! You have a difficult staff member that all the other nurses don't want to deal with? IM ALL OVER IT! Camp only lasts eight weeks for me, I would rather spend it using what I am good at rather than, dragging the team down by insisting on doing things that I'm not talented at.
7. The job will take everything you give it. If you spend twenty hours a day in the health center you will find twenty hours of things to do. Know when you need to put in some extra effort to get things done, and know when it's time to call it a day. Camp is a 24-hour operation, make sure you sleep, eat, and get a day off every so often.
8. This really isn't a big deal. Maybe two or three times a year something in camp will rise to the level of emergency. Everything else is, at worst, a crisis and mostly just inconvenient . Don't panic, flip out, or spend excess worry over thing that in the big picture are small stuff. Don't fall into the trap of letting your level of concern be dictated by those around you. A camper twisting their ankle, missing a seasonal allergy med this morning, or having a fever is in fact not a five alarm emergency. They may be emergencies to the staff, camper, or parent ;but no one is going to die, so don't freak out about it.
9. Follow the campsite rule. Try to leave things in better condition than you found them. Take one thing that was a problem for you, or you had a hard time learning and make it easier for the next nurse. For me it was an actual inventory to how many first aid kits we had on camp and what was supposed to be in them. My second year it was tweaking a form so that it could be one page instead of two, and would collect data better. Those aren't big changes, but they help. For three years running, the nurse I have helped has turned out to be me, which is a win-win situation.
10. The kids are here to have fun, you're here to work. I think the most common misconception about camp is that it is fun. It will have fun parts. When you sit down and think back on it will average out to fun, but there are times when working at camp is equal to a root canal, just like every job. You will have fun, and you will enjoy yourself, especially if you can get into the mindset of camp, but if you are expecting a vacation your going to be in for a surprise.
Please add your lesson, what have you learnt that you wish you would have known on your first camp nurse job.Last edit by Joe V on Feb 16, '15
About Alex Egan, LPN, EMT-B
I am an LPN and EMT. I have been a camp nurse for three years, and have learnt more at it then I have ever expected...some of the things I learnt were also about nursing.
Alex Egan has '9' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'Home Health (PDN), Camp Nursing'. From 'Harrisburg PA'; 30 Years Old; Joined Dec '09; Posts: 697; Likes: 1,508.May 22, '13I do not have any lessons but it is a great resource for us newbies that are interested in camp nursing. I was going to do it this year but I have a full time opportunity that I do not want to pass up. But next year, I am going to try my hardest to do at least 4 weeks. Thanks for the article.May 22, '13I wasn't a camp nurse, but I worked at a camp for two years when in college and helped out in the health lodge when people took a day off.
I found it to be a lot of fun, but you had to be willing to flip the switch as soon as you had to work. You can still have fun working, but it's just different.
I completely agree with using down time to organize and become known amongst other staff in all areas, because it just makes things run so much smoother. Knowing where things are and that they are stocked helps so much during those "emergency" situations. I think the key is to keep your cool in all moments. Knowing staff in other areas means that there are tons of helpful favors, but be prepared to give too.
Camp nursing is more than just first aid! I worked at camp during the H1N1 scare and that was hectic, but we got everything worked out and working like a well-oiled machine again within 2 days with a little extra help and advice from local public health nurses.
Plus, the kids are there to have an amazing time and that just floats over to you to if you let it!May 22, '13I thoroughly enjoyed your article! I like your Article Information piece equally as much...
"I am an LPN and EMT. I have been a camp nurse for three years, and have learnt more at it then I have ever expected...some of the things I learnt were also about nursing."
Thank you for sharing!May 22, '13Last edit by dragonheart on May 22, '13 : Reason: spellingMay 22, '13I love this articcle, I am going onto my 5 th year of camp nursing. The same organization but different camps in NJ and Ny. I try to stay out of camp politics, so many counselors were former campers and sooo much go on that you may not know about. I try to listen and hold certain opinions to my self.May 22, '13Thanks for posting this article; it was very helpful and informative. How do you get 8 weeks off from your other job to do camp nursing? I assume you have another job but could be wrong about that. I've always been curious how people juggle those things.May 23, '13Love your kitchen staff and give a lot of compliments. They both go a long way.
Teach the staff what is actually an emergency. Be willing to let them know that you need some time off, but will be available for emergencies (like taking a mid-day nap when you need it-set the boundaries).
Number two is very true. I ended up doing a lot of interpersonal work with the staff at my site this spring. A lot of people just didn't get along well. I found that I was part group facilitator/part nurse. I also learned to document EVERYTHING that you didn't get a chance to document before you go to bed. Leaving it until the next day just makes things snowball.
The hardest thing for me has been how much fun my friends perceive that I am having at camp and how little I am actually having due to my workload. It is definitely NOT vacation (not that I ever expected that).May 23, '13Quote from tacomasterI work PDN home care. The downside of the job is there is no full time positions. So I'm PRN dispite working 50+ hours a week. The upside is because I'm PRN they have no leg to stand on complaining about me taking eight weeks off. I sometimes have to scramble for work when I get back but the transition out of and then back into my job is pretty easy all things considered.Thanks for posting this article; it was very helpful and informative. How do you get 8 weeks off from your other job to do camp nursing? I assume you have another job but could be wrong about that. I've always been curious how people juggle those things.May 23, '13My first year I was out on leave, my sister had just died and my job allowed me to take leave. I took my 3 children and niece. Now I do dialysis so we make our own schedule, I group my days together and work at the camp on my days off. Its a 2 hour drive from my home, my kids go to camp for free and I enjoy it. I basically cover the nurses off days.May 23, '13Great article, Big Al. I noted that your guidelines have more to do with the social and psychological aspect of the job, rather than clinical. The job itself just ain't that hard. The meds are usually prepoured (CampMeds), the care is usually just First Aid or WWMD (What Would Mom Do?), the paperwork isn't rocket science. Yet I found my first year to be incredibly emotional and cerebral. You really are stuck with your coworkers, like it or not. I assumed everyone would be wonderful, but I was shocked by all the petty molehills turned to mountains, the backstabbing, and the continuous no-win criticism doled out to everyone. One or two people can make or break the experience. And never mention religion, politics, or the Great Pumpkin until you know who you're dealing with.
This article makes me think of writing my own about dealing with bringing your kids to camp, and the special challenges that presents.May 23, '13Thanks! for the info got offered a camp position for the summer will be first nursing job out of schoolMay 23, '13Great article. I am a nurse at a day camp in NJ. This will be my 10th year. The camp has grown from 200 to 600 campers registered for the summer, 9 weeks. They don't all come every week, but I still have to maintain the records for all the campers. When I started I tried to help out where ever I could, that included the kitchen,arts and crafts, bus evacuations, and discipline. It was hard to get someone to step up and take these jobs off of my plate when the camp grew. So my advise is to stick to the medical issues and don't get drawn into areas that are not part of your job. I love camp and I am looking forward to another great summer! Hope everyone has a great camp season