Get Out There! Camp Nursing

My first camp nursing gig was a more or less a coincidence. I was on summer staff at a very large mountainside conference center. My summer roommate, Sandi, was the nurse for the family camps. Sandi needed time off one weekend and had no one to cover for her. I was the only known staff person with an RN license for that state.  So I took hold of the nurse’s radio, first aid bag, keys to the first aid cabin and med cupboard, and voilà! Camp nurse Karen was on the job.

Skin scrapes, splinters, and road rash, constipation, dehydration, and a partly avulsed great toenail were the calls I remember charting about during that weekend on-call. Then it was another seven years before I came back to that camp as the nurse, this time officially, with a new husband who did camp odd jobs while I hustled as the single healthcare professional for two weeks.

Since then, I’ve sampled various camp types and populations: a week-long horse camp not far from my home, a six days of extremely atypical middle school camp on the coast of Ecuador, and 10 days in a dusty Mexican desert with teens and adults

Each experience has been memorable—for different reasons—and also a pretty strong workout of my nursing assessment and care skills. Examples: Learning medications I needed to take to the Ecuador coast where a healthcare center was many bumpy miles away; gaining insight into horse-crazy teen girls who had more social and behavioral health needs than medical ones; removing cactus spines from a man’s hand in a health tent that I later discovered had a few resident tarantulas.

Being part of a camp staff and joining in camp events have always been highlights. I heard excellent Bible teachers, ate meals with campers (and got to know them when they weren’t hurt or sick), cooled off in creeks and the ocean, got plenty of exercise and even learned to sail, and witnessed so many answered prayers (my own, those of campers, and of counselors praying for their campers).

The pull of camp nursing is still working on me. Camp nursing can be challenging, exhausting, patience-producing, dirty sometimes. For me, the rewards, experiences, and opportunity to serve in such a unique way have been very worthwhile.

Karen Schmidt, BA, RN, prefers camps in the mountains to those in the desert, and seeks out lots of campfires and s’mores every summer.

Learn more! Share your camp nurse experiences and ask questions from those who’ve been there. Register for the April 21 live Journal Club webinar based on the JCN article, “Camp Nursing: A Unique Specialty.” NCF members can gain 1.5 hours NCPD, too.


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