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Nursing students fo C.A.M.P.ing

Discovering a whole new way of learning

February 2004

by Melissa J. Smith

Imagine a place where all children are equal - whether they are in wheelchairs, have breathing tubes or are cognitively deficient. Regardless of their disability, they can do anything - swim, canoe or go horseback riding. Sound like a place out of a fairy tale? Itís not. Itís C.A.M.P. But this isnít just any ordinary summer camp. This is Childrenís Association for Maximum Potential (C.A.M.P.) camp.

Wyatt Struxness meets
Lori Henze at C.A.M.P.

  Wyatt Struxness meets Lori Henze

Established in the Texas Hill Country in 1979 by Chris Plauchť Johnson, M.D., clinical professor in the department of pediatrics at the Health Science Center, C.A.M.P. is a dream come true for the more than 2,000 children with disabilities who attend each summer. Thatís because not only is it led by one of the Health Science Centerís finest pediatricians, it is also, in part, staffed by Health Science Center nursing students and other medical personnel. The families of children who attend know their children are in a safe environment. If a medical emergency arises, a nurse, physician or other medical professional will be there to help.

Deneise Conrad, M.S., R.N., family nursing specialist at the Health Science Center, offers an elective each summer that allows undergraduate nursing students the chance to work with disabled children at C.A.M.P. Each summer Conrad takes between 10 and 20 students to C.A.M.P., where they work with children with disabilities 24 hours a day for a week.

Students gain hands-on experience working with children who rely on catheters, ventilators, feeding tubes and a variety of high-tech communication devices. In addition to caring for the childrenís health and attending to their medication needs, the nursing students spend time with the children and help them experience archery, horseback riding, swimming and a variety of other fun activities they normally could not do on their own.

"I had never worked with children with disabilities until I came to C.A.M.P. It was all book learning up to that point," said Lori Henze, G.N., a graduate of the school of nursing who participated in the elective. "Camp C.A.M.P. has changed my life for the better. I saw, firsthand, children overcome battles on a daily basis," she said. "I know Iím here to help others. Now Iím sure pediatrics is where I want to devote my nursing career."

The 24-hour-a-day schedule puts the students in a position to know and understand the children and their families better than in a hospital environment.

"Itís not just a job. Youíre working with a whole person," said Jaclyne Armendariz, third-semester nursing student. And thatís the point. Conrad appreciates the way students learn to treat the whole person and not just a particular disease or disability.

Families play a large part in the patientsí lives, so understanding the familiesí concerns and being able to help them understand and trust is important in a nurseís job. Chris Howard, a fourth-semester nursing student, has two sons of her own. She understands parentsí concerns about leaving their children in someone elseís care.

"As a parent I can send my 8-year-old to grandmaís without worry," Howard said. "But I see how hard it is for these parents who have never spent time away from their kids to leave them with strangers," she said. C.A.M.P. teaches the parents and the medical professionals to trust one another and to work together, she said.

C.A.M.P. recruits a health care staff of 60 to 90 professionals, along with several camp counselors, who volunteer at each camp session. This group includes, but is not limited to, nurses, nursing students, developmental specialists, general pediatricians, pediatric residents, medical students from the Health Science Center and from across the nation, physical therapists, speech therapists, psychologists, social workers and special education teachers. Medical professionals can earn continuing education units, which makes their experience at C.A.M.P. even more valuable.

"The students get to interact with professionals from other disciplines and the families of the children, and thatís a big draw for them," Conrad said. "Another plus for my nursing students is that they get to see me roll up my sleeves and be the nurse I want to be. Iím not just a teacher in the classroom."

Throughout their time at C.A.M.P., students are asked to keep a daily journal of their experiences and activities. They write about what they learn and how their interaction with the campers is progressing. At the end of the summer, students turn in case presentations in which they describe the disabilities of the campers with whom they worked, what treatments the campers required, whether or not the campers reached the goals they set for themselves, and how the campers interacted with others.

"It has made me more aware of what these children live through every day," Howard said. "Theyíve come through all this and theyíre still optimistic."

"At C.A.M.P., our nursing students work with people from different disciplines who come from around the world," Conrad said. "Together weíre working toward improving the care of children all over the world."


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