Camp Nursing and Occupational Health

Many new camp nurses are just trying to get their heads around caring for all their campers. When the issue of staff health comes up for the first time they are often completely stumped at how to handle both the routine and the odd situations that our staffers find themselves in. 


Many camps take the approach that their staffers are adults and so will need no assistance from the camp health department. In fact, some camps forbid nurses from assessing, treating, or advising staffers in any way. However, most camps have no real policy at all, choosing to rely on the nurse's judgment in coordination with the director's experience to navigate issues as they come up. 


Personally, I was a very responsible and independent young adult. When I first started as a camp nurse I was very much of the opinion that the staff should take care of their own needs. I was happy to provide them with any OTC medication that they requested and a phone line if they needed. I thought that was all a 20-year-old would need to handle most any health issue. That was absolutely true for me at twenty, but as I came to realize my logic was flawed, and my position was ill informed.


What I didn't appreciate is that not everyone had the same upbringing that encouraged independence as I did. To a large degree, the 18-25-year-old age group are still quite dependent on their parents and have little to no idea how to navigate the issues surrounding their own health. I also realized that these big kids were far from home, many even in a strange country. They were at a severe disadvantage, even if they were able to handle their own health concerns normally, as camp was a complete shakeup of their world.  We really do, in my opinion, and experience, need to provide services, and guidance to these young adults who often have more action than sense, in a location where they may be far removed from social supports that they are used to depending on. 


There are a few things that nurses have to remember when dealing with staff. Realize that staff may need to be seen and cared for at odd hours. Many staff on camp really don't get any assigned time off. Yes, it's very inconvenient to see an adult staffer at an odd or late hour, but that staffer may have had to make a lot of adjustments, and accommodations to even get to see you at all. You may find yourself doing more leg work for simple things like prescription refills and scheduling outside appointments because you are available and able to do the job during business hours when the staffer is tied up. Remember that your job as the nurse is to keep the staffer on the job as much as possible, while simultaneously addressing their health needs. 


Another issue that camp nurses must be careful around is the confidentiality and HIPPA rights of the staffer. You will find yourself being asked potentially sensitive information from many sources. The camp director will what to know why the employee is not able to work, and when they are expected to return. Drivers will want to know why a person is going to a particular doctor's office. Campers and coworkers will be concerned about the sick staffer. The staffer's parents may call concerned about their adult child. It is important to remember in these situations that you are required to respect the privacy and autonomy of the staffer who is under your care. 


Finally, it is my belief that camp health services should be able to provide health items, that may be urgently needed, but not easily obtained by staffers. At most camps I have worked at there are only trips to the store once or twice a week for staff, and sometimes no runs for weeks at a time. This makes losing a toothbrush, or suddenly finding you need your Zyrtec every day, a real problem. These folks can't just stop into the store on their way home. The health service should be able and willing to supply OTC drugs, and incidental items for a brief time until the staff can reach the store. 


One of the more controversial issues that I have had to address as a camp nurse is the staffer who is concerned about an unplanned pregnancy. It is an excellent idea to stock a pregnancy test in the health center, they sell them at the dollar store.  I also recommend that some form of emergency contraception is made available if it is an over the counter item in your state. Time is a factor with these drugs, so having them on hand is important to a good outcome. 


Nurses who will be in a charge or management capacity should also be familiar with the camps policy around workman compensation claims. Generally this is as simple as filling out an incident report for any serious injury, however, it can be more involved depending your camps insurance provider and policy. 


Most new and experienced camp nurses are often caught off guard by the occupational health duties of the job. I know this inst a comprehensive guide, I simply want to inspire thought in the direction of employee health. Care and management of employee illness and injury is a small, but important part of the camp nurses job. 

All opinions expressed are my own and to not represent those of my employer. 
Remember, anyone can pretend to be anyone on the internet, so please verify all information presented. NEVER take advice from strangers on the internet