Social isolation is a common problem for Camp Nurses. It is unexpected, and little has been written about it. It is not part of the idyllic camp-life stereotype many nurses have when they think about camp nursing.
I am 55 years old, and I nurse year round for a special needs camp in the Southeast. Our Camp Director, one of those rare great men, is in his late 30s. Our Administrator is in his 40s. We have a full-time staff of six, including me, who live here all year. That staff ranges from their mid-20s to early 30s. During our seven week-long summer sessions, we have a staff of about 60, all in their late teens to early 20s. Camping, obviously, is a young person's game, often a great starting point for them.
This leaves me 20 to 30 years older than the rest of our staff. I have great respect for all of them, but, other than our love for what we do, we have little in common, as should be expected, when you think about it. I briefly visit with the staff frequently, but I never "hang out." That would be creepy, and I never want to be what the kids call a "creepy old man." The role I have morphed into, and it feels right, is that of everyone's (except the Camp Director and Administrator) father. I take "my kids" out to dinner every so often. It's a treat for them, since they make less than half what I do. They can drop in with a problem when they need to. Like all "parents," there is a lot they don't tell me, and that's okay, too.
Familiarity breeds contempt. Nursing is one of the few professions that people still have respect for (I know, I know, not always). Camp Nurses are held in a bit of awe by your typical camp staff. We are older. We have finished our education. We have an "easier" job, in their eyes. We make untold riches, again, in their eyes. Our word tends to be law. We nurses are held to a higher standard, one not always easy to live up to. For that reason, I believe we Camp Nurses need to be a bit isolated. This does not mean the Camp Nurse should be stand-offish or unapproachable. After all, heart and warmth are the heart of nursing. I seem to remember, in nursing school, something called "offering of self." So, we need to be available, part of the team, but not part of the gang.
I'll give an example. A couple of summers ago, a nurse on my staff informed me that a male counselor sexually and verbally harassed one of my young nurses. I confirmed this with the nurse involved, and I asked her why she did not come to me with this problem. "I was afraid you would go off." was her answer. Well, I did go off! I stomped over to the Camp Director and asked him to fire this guy. "NO ONE will treat my nurses this way!" I had seen enough horizontal violence back in my hospital days. The Director interviewed the counselor, and the counselor stopped working at our camp the next day.
The next spring, I asked the nurse to work another summer with us, for she is a great nurse. Before orientation, during a bull session, she confessed to me that she and another nurse (a nurse I did not ask back), had gone out drinking at a local roadhouse with some of the male counselors during weekends off, during the summer past. "What!? You went drinking with kids 10 or 15 years younger than you? Are you nuts?" That male counselor was still guilty of harassment, but my nurses "lowered the bar," and lost some respect that isolation would have gained them. That year, and ever after, I tell my nurses during orientation something like, "I cannot control what you do on your days off, but I would prefer that you NOT socialize with camp staff. Go home on your down time and hang out with your friends. I am no prude, and I do not mind if you have a drink on your days off, as long as you are off-campus. But I might get grumpy and irritable if I hear you are partying with camp staff." This applies to my new grad nurses, also. The issue has not come up since then, luckily.
I do know of a case where one of our nurses married a former camp director years ago, but it didn't last.
Okay, so we Camp Nurses get lonely. What should we do? Just because we should keep a professional distance from our colleagues, does not mean we should be isolated from everyone. It is important to talk to our families daily while at camp. The nurse should join in camp activities, when appropriate. For me, camp activities wear thin pretty quickly. I have several hobbies that I work on daily. I make sure I have a good internet connection by using my own data card. A data card means you can do your banking and pay bills safely. Don't do these things on the public camp network. I read, I play guitar, I Skype home. I am also very good at doing absolutely nothing, a skill that should be nourished.
I am the head nurse, and I make sure I do not hang out with my nursing staff too much. I figure I am bound, sooner or later, to say something offensive. I do invite my staff to dinner at my house a couple of times a month, and my staff know they can come to my house, in twos, any time, usually to have a snack and to tell war stories, or to watch something on the satellite dish.
A prospective camp nurse should come to camp prepared to be isolated. You will make friends, some you will never forget. The real opportunity here, though, is to take professional and social isolation, turn it inside out, and to end up with something good.