Has Anyone Worked as a Camp Nurse? What was Your Experience Like?

Posted
by dareese dareese, MSN, RN Member Innovator

Specializes in Health Writer, School Nurse, Nurse Practitioner. Has 19 years experience.

I have worked as a camp nurse for many different types of camp.  However, I have been less than impressed with my experience each time.  I was wondering if it is just me and that I am not cut out for camp nursing or if in general, this type of nursing is not overly attractive for nurses.

I actually LOVE camping so it is not the great outdoors and insects that turned me off.  I found it to be lonely and at one camp with many medically fragile children, to be overwhelming and very understaffed.  I barely slept!  I have a friend who worked day camp and LOVED it but I am talking about sleepover camp.

What kind of experiences did you have as a camp nurse?

RN61

RN61, BSN, RN

Specializes in Emergency Nursing, Camp Nursing. Has 3 years experience. 4 Posts

Hi Dareese,

I noticed that this post is almost 1 year old but just in time for Summer camp!  I worked at a cub scout Summer camp (day and overnight camping) in college as a first aid provider/nursing student, as a nurse when I graduated, and now I volunteer there over the summers.  I love it!

Camp nursing is definitely not for everyone.  The pay can be less than hospital nursing.  You can be constantly outside (which it looks like you have no problem with), short-staffed, and be the only one/highest medical authority when it comes to complex cases (bad if you don't like the pressure).  So you have to be very confident in your decision-making.  And a lot of the time, you have to use your own equipment due to budgetary concerns.  On top of all of that, I ran the first aid class for the scouts since it is a requirement.  I was lucky because I have a great medical director/camp doctor that I can contact for non-emergent issues and a camp director and other higher-ups that  I have known for years. We trust each other which helps when it comes to decision-making for the camp, medically speaking.  

When I started the job, while I was in college, I worked with a school nurse and he trained me in every aspect of nursing; I give him credit for everything I have learned.  Then a couple of years later he took a Summer off (since he worked there the past 10 years and wanted a break before starting NP school).  So I was on my own, alone and terrified, but I came out of it stronger.  I was constantly on and on-call.  Open the health lodge at 0700 (but get there earlier-around 0630 to do school work), close at 2230, but I would do school work there because the wifi was amazing there so more likely I would close whenever I leave (commonly 2330-0000).  Then I would be a radio call away or leave the door unlocked (depending on where I was sleeping that night while at camp) for anyone in need of medical care.  

My camp health lodge was basically a mini urgent care.  It dealt with everything from personal/camp medication administration (camp meds are common OTC meds) throughout the day, first aid within my scope of practice and stand medication and treatment orders, occupational health center for the staff, and that first aid class I mentioned earlier (probably more but I'll save you the reading time).  Some conditions I worked with are allergic reactions (including anaphylaxis), lacerations, various mental health conditions, eye pain from kids keeping their eyes open while in the pool, dehydration, abdominal pain, homesickness, and much more!  I even worked with a child with hemophilia (I think) that had a nurse come by on a strict schedule for IV infusions- so I had to coordinate care with him too.  I have had to send people to urgent care and the ER as needed for further care due to the complexity of care and whenever I "reasonably" run out of resources for a patient.

I can talk all day about camp nursing.  Honestly, for me, if it paid better and if it was full time then I would do it forever and get paid for it but it is seasonal and it may not be appealing to others because of that and the pay can be low for some.  Feel free to message me with any questions, comments, or concerns.  I hope that you were able to find a camp that you love and people who appreciate your care!

LikeTheDeadSea, BSN, RN

Specializes in School Nursing. Has 6 years experience. 648 Posts

Camp nursing and school nursing heavily overlap, and those that dislike one often dislike the other due to the independence/loneliness aspect.

I would not work at a residential camp for generally healthy children that isn't staffed with at least 2 full time nurses and 1 floating nurse.   There is a theme within the camp community where staff/counselor pay is exempt from minimum wage in some states with crazy hours and although there is a push to change this in the larger camp community, this view definitely was put on health care staff.  Year to year, if enough people say 'yes' to working in understaffed conditions, people become okay with it. 

Remember than when a camp interviews you, you are also interviewing the camp. Ask them what their health staffing is like and what the schedule typically is. Ask to talk to a nurse who previously worked there so you can get a better idea of what it is like. (If they can't find one - red flag!)

Variation is wiiiiiiide and camp nurses are in high demand every year, so you can definitely be picky and find a better experience.