Camp nurses are one of the most challenging summer positions to fill. Nurses are highly qualified, and they may have a difficult time asking for even a week off from their regular commitment to work a lower-paying or volunteer job at a camp.
Last year, while Camp Rivercrest in Fremont, Neb., was facing this challenge, an idea emerged that revolutionized the health center and first-aid care, both during summer camp and year-round.
It all began because one of the part-time employees told the staff about his other job as a paramedic, and invited us to join the upcoming Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) class he was co-teaching. Only a few months later, the camp had several new EMTs as part of its staff, and I was promoted to the primary health professional just in time for the summer-camp season.
Besides never having to worry about hiring enough nurses for camp, having a staff of EMTs provided many other benefits:
Saving Time And Money
Many community colleges offer Emergency Medical Services (EMS) classes. Although each college has a different timeline for classes, basic EMT certification can take as little as one quarter to complete.
Because winters tend to be the slowest season for camps, this is the perfect time to take the class. So, for two days a week, instead of working at camp, we carpooled over to the college for lectures and labs. With several staff members in the class, there was the added benefit of our studying together, so we were consistently the top students in the class.
Undoubtedly, putting staff (or even one staff member) through EMT school comes with a cost, but we saw it as a worthwhile investment that could actually save money over time.
For starters, this option is more economical than financing someone through nursing school. Those camps that choose to emulate Camp Rivercrest’s model and designate a year-round staff member as the summer health professional may have to consider the additional costs, but ultimately, it’s still less expensive than hiring an extra seasonal nurse.
And camp directors who provide enough encouragement and time off for staff members to take the class may find employees are willing to pay for some or even all of the tuition fees.
A Consistent Summer
In keeping with the model of having a designated summer health professional and several EMTs on staff, consider the level of consistency it brings to the medical center.
For instance, because it is difficult to find a nurse who can commit two months to a summer camp, it is not unusual to have several nurses working throughout the season. This creates differences in how each one fills out paperwork, follows procedures, runs the medical center, and communicates with other staff members and counselors.
Having EMTs instead of nurses helps a camp run more smoothly in a number of other ways as well. For example, most nurses are trained in a hospital or doctor’s office with a specialty in one area. Oftentimes, the specialty is something not applicable in a camp setting.
Because EMTs are trained to respond to any emergency, all of the skills they acquire transfer to camp. Since Camp Rivercrest’s staff members made up half of the EMT class they attended, the instructors often related the scenarios to a camp setting.
Also, if several campers are sick or injured at one time, the healthcare center turns into the new hotspot. If the only health professional also is ill (perhaps a common occurrence when coming in contact with others who are sick), scrambling to find an available, qualified substitute is difficult.
With the Rivercrest model, the primary health professional may be extremely busy with many ill and injured campers, or just wants a second opinion, so he or she is able to call on one of several other qualified people already on campus.
Safety In All Areas
Several EMTs on-site also means there is usually one in every area of the camp. If the top healthcare professional is working inside the health center, EMTs are still around camp, swimming, eating, playing games, working on maintenance, or otherwise involved with campers. An EMT is able to provide immediate care for a sick or injured camper while someone else notifies the healthcare professional at the medical center.
This greatly increases response times, and even decreases the number of health-center visits since minor problems are dealt with on the spot. More EMTs on staff will probably notice potential problems faster and fix them before they become an issue.
In the non-summer months, Camp Rivercrest hosts guest groups, but because there is not a health professional on staff, the groups are required to bring someone who can provide first aid. However, with at least a couple of EMTs on-site, they are able to help in case their first-aid provider is unavailable or the incident requires more resources.
Placing EMTs on staff initially eased fears of the camp’s rural location in case a severe injury or illness occurred, but telling guest groups there is a paramedic and several EMTs on staff makes people feel more comfortable about their stay, even if they only need a Band-Aid fix.
Community Involvement (And Free Marketing)
Having a year-round staff consisting of mostly EMTs has opened more doors for Camp Rivercrest. Just a few months ago, we were able to convince an EMS instructor to do a follow-up workshop in one of the camp buildings. This was a great opportunity to introduce our instructor and classmates to the camp, and suggest the opportunity to do more events there.
Several of us have also been invited to the college several times to help with EMT exams.
Although our busy camp schedules have kept most of us from working on an ambulance, we are ready and willing to provide assistance should a crisis or natural disaster arise.
Having an EMS team has made the camp better known in the community, and allows for more marketing and networking opportunities. In all, EMT training has done so much more than simply improve the health center.
Jessica Lippe currently serves as the media manager at Camp Rivercrest in Fremont, Neb. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.