Choosing a Camp
A summer at camp can keep you young. It can be a long term career or a break from your regular job. Avoid camp nursing pitfalls that can ruin your summer. Goodness of fit is critical in camp nursing. Pick the right camp with this guide for new and veteran nurses.
I've been meaning to write this for some time. Spring will be here before we know it, and many nurses are looking for camps to work at this summer.
I hope this will be seen as an open-ended thread. I am eager to read the additions our brother and sister nurses make. Each camp has its own unique identity, so my experiences may not apply to you. My motivation is to help nurses avoid some of the mistakes I made when I was new at camp nursing. If you and your job are the right fit, the summer is over before you know it. If you are nursing at the wrong camp, the summer is endless.
The first thing to do is decide what you are looking for. ACA reports there are over 12,000 camps in the USA, so the choices can be daunting. Narrow it down. Do you want a traditional sleep away camp? A day camp? Wilderness camp? A "Dirty Dancing" kind of resort? Healthy campers? Special needs? Music? Sports? Religious? Non-profit and For-profit camps have way different corporate culture. You get the idea.
Define your personal needs. What kind of salary do you require? Some camps ask for volunteer nurses. Others pay really well, some hardly at all, with most camps being somewhere in the middle. Some camps "trade for tuition," that is, they will allow your children to come to camp for no charge in exchange for your services. Some will offer a salary on top of it. Room and board, of course, is offered at every camp I ever heard of. You should be able to find a suitable compensation package with a little hunting. However, if "How much does it pay?" is your first thought, camp nursing is probably not for you.
It is good to ask yourself what camp nursing means to you. If you have a picture in your mind of idyllic days patching the occasional boo-boo and making s'mores, you are clinging to a stereotype. Camp nursing, while it does have some down time, is hard work! Expect long days and nights. I always need a week to rest at the end of the summer. Many people come to work at camp hoping to relive the magic of their childhood at camp. As a nurse, you will be disappointed if you have that hope. The camp nurse is usually one of the older members of the staff, in my case, over 30 years, lol! While you are an important part of camp life, you should expect some isolation. Why do you want to be a camp nurse? Find the answer in your heart, because you will be asked that question a lot.
What's your family situation. Single? You are good to go. Not single? If your family is not on board, you should probably put off the idea of camp nursing for another summer. It just can't work if your family does not want you to go. If single, are you good with leaving your home or apartment vacant for the summer? Maybe you can work out a house-sitter or sub-lease for that time. There are companies that can help with these arrangements. Who's going to mow the grass? Some camps let you bring your pet, some do not. Don''t forget to think about your cable, phone, utilities, and other bills that will have to be paid, whether you are there or not.
Think about your job situation. If you are a new grad or between jobs, this is no problem. Getting a leave from your hospital job can be a problem. It often seems that HR has not gotten the memo there is a nursing shortage. I have heard from nurses over and over they could not camp without quitting their jobs. That was true in my case also, back when I was working med-surg. I solved my problem by going to the DON and covering her desk with the cards and letters I had gotten over the years. "What are you doing,?" she said. I told her, "I am showing you the kind of nurse you are letting walk out the door." She told me to go to camp, and she would take care of HR. I found out after the summer she simply put me on the schedule every two weeks, and called me in sick. It's a shame, but you are going to have to get creative here. I solved this problem for good by going full time as a camp nurse, a rare job.
Now you are ready to start your search. The ACA, and ACN websites are good places to start. I just Googled "camp nurse jobs," and tons of good information popped up.
Keeping the above in mind, narrow it down to 3 or 4 camps. Go to their website. Google them and see what people are saying about them. Google the Camp Director, or Head Nurse and see if there is anything wacky. If things are good, send a resume, then, later that same day, call the Camp Director or other decision maker.
Listen closely during the phone call. Remember there is a nursing shortage. Chances are the camp really wants to hire you. Here is your chance to make this work for you. You are selling yourself to the camp, but the camp needs to sell itself to you, as well. Listen to the Camp Director. You should get a "warm fuzzy" from this person. Did he or she respond to your call or email in a reasonable time? Were they distracted. Did they have time for you? If you do not feel good about the initial contact, move on. These traits will only get worse during a busy summer.
If the initial short phone call goes well, arrange an interview. INTERVIEW AND TOUR THE CAMP PERSONALLY IF AT ALL POSSIBLE. This is very important. Your idyllic cabin could turn out to be a tar-paper shack. Your "wifi access" could be a half mile hike.
"Access to all camp activities" might mean only during down time that doesn't exist. The only way to find out is to go. Make the tour as part of an out-of-town weekend with your family. This makes the long drive not so bad. A personal tour and interview is your chance to see if the website or the initial phone call was deceptive. It happens. If you sense deception, move on. It might be part of the camp culture, and will only get worse.
It may be impossible to visit due to a long distance. In that case, rely on how you are treated in your communication. Quick, respectful response to your calls and emails is a good clue. Your phone interview should leave you with good feelings. You would hate to get to Denali, Alaska, to find out this is not the place for you. But, far away does appeal to our sense of adventure.
Your tour may come before or after the interview. Is the camp clean and well maintained? How does the Health Center look? Was it used as a storage area during the off season? Literally sniff around your quarters, and look for signs of vermin. Look for safety issues, such as broken pavement. You are looking to see if they are cutting any corners.
Do not worry or be nervous about the interview, even if you are a new grad. The CD or Head Nurse will be interviewing you, and you should be interviewing them. I believe you will leave a great impression by asking appropriate questions. It lets your decision maker know they are talking to a professional. Here are some good questions to ask:
Are you ACA accredited? That does not guarantee a good fit, but its a start.
What are my hours? What are my duties? When are my days off?
Do you have standing orders or protocols?
How far away is the Camp Doctor, and the ER?
Who takes sick or injured campers to the ER or Doctor, if needed?
Can I meet with the Camp Doctor? This is a big red flag if you are discouraged from meeting with her. I like to bring a cake or doughnuts to the office staff in the spring so they know me and will put my calls through quickly.
Do you have MARs? Who creates them? Are they electronic? Try to avoid camps where you create MARs at check in. It can take hours and hours, and leave you exhausted on the first day of camp. It is not a good sign if the CD does not know what an MAR is.
What are your medication rules? Blister pack or roll packs (easiest)? Prescription bottles (okay)? No rules? (Run!)
Who does incontinent camper laundry? The infirmary laundry?
What is the supply budget?
Do you have a flu and disaster plan?
How long will I have for orientation? I think a week is the minimum. You will have to do a hundred things during your orientation to get ready for camp. I'll write a separate article about that.
Ask about cell reception and internet access, if that is important.
Do you pay for my travel, or out of state license?
When can my family or friends visit?
What is your policy regarding sick campers at check in? What about campers who come with incomplete or no documentation?
Who deals with behavioral issues? Homesickness? Sometimes that is the nurse's job.
Try to get a feel for if the camp has a culture of safety. Some camps seem to think it is okay if someone gets sick or injured because "we have a nurse to patch them up." Other camps believe it is more important to do everything possible to prevent illness or injury. Some camps think the Health Center is a hospital.
Do you have ? I would recommend you get your own.
At the end of the interview, if you have a good feeling, it is time to talk pay. How will you pay me? How often? How much? If pay is the only deal-breaker you find, tell the CD. They may respond positively.
Read any contract carefully. You may want to read it at home at your leisure.
Write your interview questions down before you visit. Better a short pencil than a long memory.
At this point, you are ready to decide. It seems like a lot of trouble, but it will help you find a good match. Do not ignore any gut feelings you have. Do not ignore any red flags. I want to close by emphasizing most camps are wonderful places filled with good people. A little due diligence will help you discover the rare camp that is not as good, or one that is not a good fit for your disposition. Good luck, and feel free to contact me.Last edit by Joe V on Apr 10, '13
The writer is a year 'round DON for a special needs camp in the Southeast.
Joined: Nov '11; Posts: 84; Likes: 78
Year 'round Camp Nurse; from US
Specialty: 7 year(s) of experience in Med-Surg, Ortho, CampMar 1, '13Five star post. Very informative. I wish it had been around when I was starting out a few years ago.Mar 1, '13Quote from big al lpnI agree. This is a wonderfully informative post on a subject we don't hear much about as nurses, but may have some interest in. I am going to share this with my brother- in - law who is a camp director at a Salvation Army Camp in Michigan. This will help him better understand his nurses needs.Five star post. Very informative. I wish it had been around when I was starting out a few years ago.
Awesome post on camp nursing.Mar 1, '13Let me tell you about my almost camp nurse nightmare. I was working for a environmental camp/ school program during the school year at a resort in the Adirondacks. I loved it, the rest of the staff was young, but I had a ball, and was always included on our weekends off. The program closed for the summer, so I thought I'd look around for a summer camp job. I found a camp that seemed great, it was close to where I was working, pay was awesome, and I took some of my coworkers and we checked it out. It looked really nice. After a few conversations with the camp owner/ director, I accepted the job, what a mistake!
I arrived on the opening day for staff, and was directed to my cabin that I was to share with another nurse. Yikes number one, no door on my bedroom. Yikes number two, this camp was only attended by a religious group that followed certain dietary restrictions that I was not made aware of before hand. I do not eat the way they do and felt it was wrong of the owner to not mention this to me beforehand, so I could have considered this before accepting the job. YIKES NUMBER THREE! and FOUR! I had explained to the owner that working the night shift was something I was not interested in, he assured me that it was something we could work out. AND then I met my boss, OMG! I have never in all my years of nursing, ever met such an egotistical, nasty, just plain mean supervisor. Her favorite rant was to tell the new staff how she was just such an experienced camp nurse and we just might not ever measure up. I took her aside to speak with her about not working overnights because I hadn't done it in years and that I didn't mind doing more evenings, but could not stay awake during the night shift. My boss actually told me she didn't care, nothing could be "worked out". By this time I was getting very disillusioned with this job. The meals were awful, especially breakfast, no toasters in the dinning hall, they were a "fire hazard", so I couldn't even have toast for breakfast. By now I am planning my escape. I arrived on Friday late morning, stayed over Saturday, And before I went to bed on Saturday night, I told my roomate I was leaving in the morning. I repacked my suitcases, and got my I got up Sunday morning, showered, dressed, and when everyone went to breakfast, I left! That camp didn't deserve any explanations from me, they had told lie after lie, to try to get me to work there. I stopped at Mcdonalds, got some breakfast I was used to eating and headed home.
Just an FYI. Be very cautious, and ask way more questions than I did. Ask if the camp follows any special dietary rules. Camp nursing can be so much fun, but it can also be a horror if you don't investigate enough. By the way, my roomie told me she was the only returning staff from the year before, she said no one else wanted to even consider returning. Lesson learned !Mar 3, '13This is why it is so important to ask questions. I did not share my nightmare camp experiences, trying to be fair. It is amazing how many things can be not mentioned during an interview process. Maybe it is forgotten, and maybe it is deception. Realnurse also mentions a point I forgot. Ask about the diet. Menus seldom change much, so you can ask to see one from last summer. I saw a big red flag in Realnurse's bad experience. The Head Nurse was not part of her hiring process. That's pretty strange. I want to at least talk on the phone for a long time before I hire any nurse. What a wacky manager! The nurses already know you can fire them, so why bring up that you are their god? Go figure. I guess it is a sign of deep insecurity. We all know insecure people make bad managers. I once asked a Camp Director who the Head Nurse was. He said that he, a non-nurse, was. I should have left right then. He "practiced nursing" all summer, giving treatment orders, etc., and sometimes getting pretty dangerous. I think Realnurse showed courage in choosing to leave. As long as it is not abandonment, it is important to keep a temporary job from becoming a license killer.Mar 4, '13CampNurse, I've spoken w you before and know that you are a year-round nurse for a special-needs camp, so I can see your perspective on considering not being able to speak to the MD or head nurse a red flag. However, here in the Northeast, there are many, many private camps that cater to very affluent, healthy kids who do not have a year-round medical staff. I have spoken with a handful of these hiring managers and the deal is the same: the MD's are mostly campers' parents who donate a week or two each summer and they come in from all over the country, and rotate in and out each week. So in many cases there's really no suspicious reason you cannot speak to an MD, they just aren't on site, in many cases they don't even know who they'll have yet. (And frankly, some of the doctors we did get were absolutely clueless about the camp and learned as their week progressed.) As far as the head nurse, the story is similar, they live somewhere in the region and usually are living their "regular" life and not actively involved in the hiring process. So if a camp doesn't refer you to these people, often it's no red flag at all.Mar 4, '13My camp likewise doesn't have a year round head nurse. However the head nurse position exists and is passed down from one to the next. With the blessing of management of course. The head nurse (an 8year vet) has phone interviews with all new nursing staff. Usually she does them from her summer home in Peurto Rico. (She's not rich, just a hippy who literally got land there though squatting rights in the 70s) I found this very reassuring, the fact that at least one person in camp would know what was going on was the main reason that I sighed on with my outfit. I was also impressed to find that she was considered head staff with all the management firepower that included. I was very concerned that the health department i worked in was integrated into camp, not working against it. We generally have three doctors over 8 weeks, that is hit or miss, but because of the head nurse we have unified treatment protocols and expectations. That is all to say I strongly recommend camps with a preexisting head nurse!
She was also very clear in my interview, camp nursing is work! The kids are here to have fun, you are here to nurse. If fun happens that's fantastic, but don't expect to catch a mid morning nap in a hammock unless it's your day off.Apr 9, '13This is awesome. I just started my first nursing job as a school nurse and I'm starting to look for camp nursing jobs during the summer. I'm not looking to make a ton of money just enough to pay my rent so I can keep my apartment without having to search for a new one next school year. Thanks so much for the tips!Apr 10, '13Wow, this article covers everything! I would add that if possible I would want to be in contact with head staff before the summer to ensure that they are easy to deal with. The head lifeguard, in particular, is someone you want to have a good relationship with.