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Unusual Summer Camp Helps Teens Better Appreciate Nursing Profession - 2003-08-31


When American kids go back to school, many will have stories to tell about their summer camps, the new friends they made, and the new things they learned. The 12 and 13-year-olds that went to Inova Nursing Exploration Summer Camp will be talking about infection control, intensive care and vital signs. Their week-long camp experience took them into a Virginia hospital and the world of nursing.

Forty-two students were welcomed to Nursing Camp this summer. Camp director Ellen Swartout explains it's an intense, but fun, week. "They get to view an actual surgery in session," she said. "Another thing is to go see the Aircare helicopter and learn how critically ill patients are managed on the helicopter. They try the equipment, that is very popular. When they go to EC, Emergency Center, they give them actual deficiencies that they have to work out on the wheelchair, and things of that nature. All kinds of hands-on things."

Kathryn Caldwell and Kara Halpin attended Nursing Camp last month. Though neither of them is sure of her future profession, both say the camp was a good opportunity to learn more about the field of nursing.

Thirteen-year-old Kathryn says her mother encouraged her to go to the camp. Mary Caldwell says she has always wanted her children to learn new skills during their summer vacations.

"It is just amazing how one week can pack so much activities into it," said Mary Caldwell. "One thing that Kathryn did and showed me how much the program benefited her is that I had in a few different times friends over and in the evening she'd go through every thing she did. And I can tell from her enthusiasm that the program was genuine."

The program usually starts in the Labor and Delivery Unit, where campers learn how nurses work with women about to give birth. According to Rene Zelkin, who directs the Labor, Delivery and Recovery Unit at Fairfax Hospital, kids at this age, especially boys, are extremely curious about babies.

"Boys this year seem to be more responsive and it was very interesting to watching their body language when I show them certain parts because we go in details in certain areas," she said. "And they ask a lot of questions about what moms do and where babies are there. I mean they seen very positive in the room," she said. "They seem very interested in getting involved and doing certain things that we are doing."

They maybe interested enough to consider nursing as a career. Ellen Swartout says the camp experience highlights the importance of nursing in the U.S. health care system, and the profession's wide-ranging responsibilities.

"We started the program because our intention was to improve the image of nursing through perception," she said. "A lot of people do not know what nurses do in both traditional and non-traditional roles. So it does give a real inside look at the nursing world."

Beyond providing health care, Ms. Swartout says nurses are role models. "Around the age of this program, I was thirteen at the time I wanted to become a nurse because I was exposed to the health care system via an accident," she recalls. "I remember the nurse that took care of me was just a wonderful and caring person. It is funny because her face is still attached to my mind over many years. And it was at that age, 13, that I decided I want to do something like what this woman has done to me."

Many of the students who attended the first nursing summer camp three years ago will be high school seniors this year, and starting to think about college. Inova Nursing Summer Camp officials are planning to contact them and find out what career choices they are making. Ellen Swartout says even if they are not going into health care, these young adults now have a better appreciation for their own health, and the nursing professionals who help them take care of it.

Photos courtesy of Inova Nursing Exploration Summer Camp

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