Choosing a Camp

Post appears on posted on 2/28/13 and can be found here  Content posted on campfire nursing is used with the permission of the author CampNurse1.  

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 malpractice insurance? 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.