What is a camp nurse?

All of my nursing career I wanted to experience life as a camp nurse.  I finally got my chance last summer at Heart O’ the Hills.  I arrived with all of the items on my supply list that Jane emailed me and a whole lot of courage.  See, I am personally the mother of two teenage daughters so I knew exactly what I was walking into.

Or so I thought…

I think the best way to understand what being a camp nurse is like is to tell you what it isn’t because, basically, all of my preconceived ideas and expectations were out the window within the first 48 hours!

Heart O' the Hills Summer Camp for Girls

When we know that Nurse Jen will be back!!! <3

Being a camp nurse isn’t a vacation away from “real nursing”.  Being a camp nurse isn’t going on leisurely hikes through the woods or daily swims in the river.  It isn’t sleeping all night long in your private bunk room in the back of the infirmary unit, affectionately called Orenda.

“Orenda is a supernatural force believed by the Iroquois Indians to be present, in varying degrees, in all objects or persons, and to be the spiritual force by which human accomplishment is attained or accounted for.” 


Being a camp nurse isn’t all putting band-aids on boo-boos.  It isn’t two weeks of R&R.  It isn’t just bug bites and vitamins.  It isn’t “lights out!” and close your eyes and wake up rested and refreshed 8 glorious hours later.  And it definitely isn’t ghost stories with a flashlight under your chin.

I felt something stir inside me when I first entered the nursing quarters of  Heart O’ the Hills and I saw the wooden plaque that had “Orenda” written on it in bright red letters.  Inside I saw pictures of campers and staff from decades ago and I knew this space was sacred and historic.  A locked cabinet held all of the camper and counselor’s individual medications as well as the usual suspects—Tylenol, Benadryl, Ibuprofen, Icy Hot and hydrocortisone creams.

There was an alcove where a desk space sat and a computer.  I was quickly tutored on how to chart on camper illness and injury.  Nope, you don’t get to escape charting while you are at camp, either!  The room housed bunk beds and bandage supplies, a sink, a storage cabinet with crutches and extra medications.

I also explored a binder with standing orders for the usual complaints and a process for those things that fell beyond bumps and bruises.  Farther down the hall and I would arrive at my home for the next two weeks:  a twin bed, a desk and a private bathroom.  The tour only took a few minutes but the lessons and memories will stay with me forever.

Heart O' the Hills Summer Camp for Girls

War Canoe (photo by Meredith Hill)

I quickly learned in those first few hours that camp nursing was way more than bug bites and band-aids.  There is this thing called “War Canoe” that quickly became my arch enemy.  Advice to future camp nurses:  don’t fight War Canoe because you will lose and you will lose badly.

War Canoe is life for those girls who participate in it and there is nothing you or any ice pack can do to keep them out of that boat, even if your own sanity depends on it!  I also didn’t realize that my patients wouldn’t only be campers, but the counselors and office staff as well!

I knew camp traditions included horseback riding, archery, sports and river activities but what I didn’t realize is that the campers also have ice cream every afternoon.  My Orenda stock included plenty of ginger ale to ward off tummy aches, not coincidentally.  😉

If the ice cream doesn’t hype those delicate little campers up enough, all the candy they can carry brought in by their parents (what did I ever do to them?!) the last night of camp will definitely do the trick!! Did I mention that Orenda is in the bottom floor of the building and directly above it are camper bunks?

And there is also something called “Bonanza Extravaganza” and if I weren’t so busy running around with a flashlight and band-aids in my pack, I probably would’ve been breathing into a brown paper bag to keep from hyperventilating with anxiety!  Ahhh, a good time was had by all that night…except for Nurse Jen.  As I write this I can’t believe I’m going back for more in just a few short weeks!

I rubbed the tiny backs of midgets and I wrapped ace bandages on war canoe warriors.  I read between the lines to decipher what was a stomach ache and what was a touch of home sickness.  I made heat packs out of rice and socks and educated girls about the many benefits of Epsom salt soaks.  But for all the things I tried to teach the campers, I learned immeasurable things about what it means to be a strong female and a Heart Girl.

Heart O' the Hills Summer Camp for Girls

Bonanza Extravaganza/Mission Impossible!!!

Now I know why Orenda has been blessed with that name because there is something supernatural about being around all of those amazing young women.  It truly is “the spiritual force by which human accomplishment is attained” and it was infectious to be around all of the campers who were facing their fears and loving without restraint and getting dirty and loud and brave!

Those girls definitely kept me on the tips of my Chacos during those two weeks but their contagious excitement and unleashed vitality added a new element of joy to this job that I am so fortunate to get to do.

So get the ice cream ready and bring it on Bonanza Extravaganza because Nurse Jen is ready for you Shawnees and Pawnees!!


-Nurse Jen


Editor’s Note: Jen Schriewer lives in Fredericksburg, TX with her husband and three kids. She worked at Heart O’ the Hills last summer for the first time as our Orenda and she is also a nurse in Fredericksburg and we are super excited she will be back with us this summer!!! 

About the Author

Guest Blogger

Leave a Comment