Nursing Summer Camp: Recruiting the Next Generation of Nurses!

Submitted by Megan Mraz RN, MSN

Tags: camp care child children nursing nursing school team building

Nursing Summer Camp: Recruiting the Next Generation of Nurses!

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Written by:

Megan Mraz RN, MSN
Assistant Professor
West Chester University

Christine Thomas RN, PhD
Associate Professor
West Chester University 222
Sturzebecker Health Science Center
West Chester, PA
[email protected]


This manuscript looks at providing a nursing summer camp to school aged children with the hopes of sparking interest in the profession at a young age, as well as fostering the nursing spirit in children who may be considering the profession.  The camp was a proactive response to the nursing shortage in an attempt to introduce children to the many possible nursing career options.  The focus was to help children and their parents understand what nurses do and actions that could be taken during the middle and high school years to prepare for entering nursing school.  The camp provided an avenue for active nurses to share their love and passion of the nursing profession to the next generation of nurses.

Nursing Summer Camp: Recruiting the Next Generation of Nurses!

The nursing shortage is a substantial US healthcare concern. The most recent projection by Buerhaus, Staiger, & Auerbach (2009) note that the shortage of registered nurses (RNs) in the U.S. could reach as high as 500,000 by 2025. Additionally, the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics forecast jobs for registered nurses to grow at a much faster rate than the average for all occupations. This is evident as the need for RNs is expected to increase by 23% by 2016 (Dohm & Shniper, 2007).  Many strategies to increase funding and scholarships for nursing education nationwide are in place (American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 2008).  However, in order to fill this future need for nurses, young Americans need to choose nursing as a career option.  National media campaigns sponsored by Johnson & Johnson and Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow are helping to gain the attention of young people who may consider becoming a nurse. At this time, the programs that sponsor this dissemination of information are primarily directed toward high school students. From this data, a gap in the upper elementary/ middle school age was identified. For this age group, one avenue that has gained popularity and interest among the high school students is nursing summer camp (Daumer & Britson, 2004; Mayo Clinic, 2008;Yeager & Cheever, 2007).

Based on this review of the literature, our local honor society attempted to tackle the nursing shortage by targeting elementary and middle school age children. The rationale of this decision was to first, to expose the children to nursing at a young age when they may first start having thoughts of a career; second, to reach children when they are at an impressionable developmental level and may have inaccurate ideas of what nurses do; third, it was the desire of the planning committee to reach children prior to making decision regarding class choices in their later middle school and high school curriculums.

The task of designing and implementing the camp was taken on by the university’s chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society. The camp served as an opportunity to bring members together and promote the nursing profession in a productive purposeful manner. The main goals of the camp were to: expose children to various specialties within nursing, and to promote a beginning understanding of career opportunities in nursing. While “helping people” is the primary reason of why many adolescents want to be a nurse, most nurses will tell you nursing is more than helping people. Applications of science, math, psychology, psychomotor skills, education, empathy, and caring (to name a few) are also required to be a nurse. Therefore, it became evident that the camp nurse volunteers would use their expertise in nursing, love of their profession, and knowledge of developmental education to help the children explore the vast opportunities that being a nurse can provide.

Camp Planning

One developmental age group was chosen as this was the first year and the camp was being set in motion. Additionally, one age group allowed for easy planning of appropriate social and cognitive activities. Room availability and the number of volunteer counselors prohibited planning for two different camps, so this evaluation of resources supported the need to have only one age group.

A nonscientific survey of university nursing admission organizers noted that children as young as middle school are choosing courses and electives as this was certainly happening in high school. It was the intention to introduce younger children to nursing as well as provide their parents with some suggestions on how to choose primary schooling courses with their child so that upon application for college or nursing school, the child would have all prerequisites for the nursing major.

As the ideas began to take shape, the organizers began to initiate an action plan. The camp volunteers had experience in nursing and education; however, it was identified that assistance would be needed in marketing, registration, and initial funding. In order to establish financial resources, a grant was written and received from Centocor Inc. for $15,000. This was to support advertising, marketing, and camp session supplies for a two year period. The university marketing department provided assistance with advertising in local camp newspapers and design of the nursing camp website. The website was located with the many other university supported summer camps. The website was very effective for communication, marketing, and easy collection/record of parent/child registration information. The marketing personnel from the university developed advertisement in local camp circulars such as Kids News and The Trend. Camp organizers moved forward with marketing efforts, using nursing department contacts in local schools used for clinical classes. This allowed for 4,800 flyers to be distributed in 3 school districts, YMCA facilities, and community centers.  Local branches of large corporations were less receptive to posting flyers, however, locally owned community businesses allowed the camp organizers to post camp flyers and brochures. Two local hospitals where alumni members were employed circulated camp flyers and information to employees by email. Finally, employee email was also used to market the camp to the employees at the University.

The university conference services department assisted to gather camper registration information and fees using an internet based ticket purchasing service. They provided examples of child consent, assumption of risk, camper code of conduct agreement, medical information/release, and photo release forms used by other university sponsored summer camps. 

Marketing for the camp was anticipated to use $1000 to $2000 of the annual camp budget.  This was less than the actual $ 2,500 cost of three newspaper ads, flyers, and brochures sent to families from local elementary and middle schools.  Flyers and brochures were first divided into packets according to class size then dropped off at the schools for distribution by teachers.  Discussions of camp costs included how much to charge campers and whether or not to include scholarships for registration fees. Registration cost needed to be enough to cover a portion of expenses, limit the number of registrations from less interested campers, and not be prohibitive to lower income families. The first year registration fee was set at $150, which when divided into a daily rate of $30 was much less than local child care or day camp costs. The camp organizers did not have the experience, time, or resources the first year to design and implement a camp scholarship program. This idea would be part of the plan the second year of the camp.

After registration, marketing, and funding was resolved, the camp organizers moved forward with the actual planning of the camp week. Reserving room space was a challenge. The camp was competing for space with other long standing and profitable sports and academic summer camps. In addition, summer university classes were in session, therefore the camp organizers personally contacted faculty teaching classes to identify if room conflicts with existing classes would occur. The nursing faculty teaching summer nursing courses supported the request for room changes to accommodate the camp activities.

The grant money relieved much of the organizer’s anxiety regarding financial support to purchase needed supplies for an effective and fun camp for the campers. A financial outline was developed that included a budget for each planned education/activity session, food and food storage, marketing, and camper supplies such as tee shirts, certificates of completion, and miscellaneous items. Chapter nursing alumni volunteered their expertise and time and served as session/activity planners and camp counselors. Also, one junior counselor volunteered as part of her high school service learning requirement.

Camp Demographics 

The total number of campers attending the first year’s summer camp was 11. All were female from the ages of 8 to 12. They were of various ethnicities and backgrounds. While a few of the campers knew another camper from school, a majority of the campers were from different school districts and first came to know each other during the camp.

The volunteers were mostly nurses who belong to the Xi Delta Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau. Some were faculty from the University, but a good portion of the volunteers were members of the chapter that are staff nurses at local hospitals, nurse educators at local community colleges and universities, and some alumni from the university. We also had one high school student who attended the camp as a volunteer, which aided in her accomplishment of required high school volunteer hours.

Camp Curriculum 

The camp curriculum objectives included:

  1. orient campers to the role of the nurse,
  2. expose campers to various specialties within nursing,
  3. promote understanding of career opportunities in nursing,
  4. identify nursing influence in patient care, and
  5. outline educational prerequisites for entry into a nursing school.

To meet the objectives a variety of activities/sessions were designed. We started the camp off with team building exercises. Team building exercises allowed the campers to become acquainted with one another and build team working skills of listening, problem solving, and cooperation. Overview of nursing fields included: maternity/pediatrics – baby swaddling, bathing, feeding, diapering, and transfer from one to another; critical care – vital signs, pulse oximeter, EKG; and medical/surgical – making an occupied bed and checking name bands before medication administration.  Nursing care issues were introduced in sessions of: infection control – transfer of organisms using various colored glitter and hand shaking, as well as hand washing using glo germ; nutrition and exercise – food pyramid, food sample comparisons, pedometers; wound care – manikin wound examples and dressing a basic wound; CPR – community American Heart Association course; nursing psychomotor skills –  obstacle course where teams competed in a course using healthcare related equipment, as well as using skills that they were taught (such as giving compressions); and problem solving – scavenger hunt where written clues of various equipment used by nurses with puzzle piece prizes to complete a group puzzle were used as an activity. All the nursing sessions and activities were held at the university.

A call for counselors was placed by email and word of mouth to chapter members. All faculty, alumni, and members provided encouragement for the idea of a camp. Thankfully fourteen individuals were able to assure a time commitment to make the camp happen. Two program planners organized the administrative needs of the camp (advertising, weekly session organization, hospital & ambulance tour, space reservations, budget and finances, etc). Fours members were able to work at the camp most days of the week. Another 10 members helped to design camp sessions and work from a few hours to a couple days during the week. This worked well providing at least four to six nurse counselors physically at the camp each day to organize sessions, assist the 11 campers in activities, and provide the campers with individualize attention and expertise. 

The designs of various topic sessions were assigned to volunteer members and activities for each session were scheduled for 1 ½ hours. The assignment of sessions decreased the work load of the camp administrative planners and allowed for the creativity and experience of each volunteer to be used. Each volunteer who designed a session was also able to showcase their nursing specialty and expertise, as each volunteer geared the session around their clinical specialty. This allowed for the campers to truly receive cutting edge information while having it presented to them on a developmentally appropriate level.

The sessions were designed to fill five hours of activities for each of the four days at the university (see table 1). Since this was the first year of the camp, each designer was encouraged to over prepare activities for each topic session. This would allow the counselors to keep the campers engaged for the allotted time and have a couple back up activities if the first activities went quickly. The back up activities were used and proved to be some of the more favored activities of the week. One of the time fillers that was very effective and provided a creative outlet for the campers was the designing of art and craft activity pages. A variety of stickers, nursing pictures cut from nursing journals, and foam letters were used by the campers to design collages or memory pages of session topics.  The activity was effective in calming down the campers physically and emotionally from some of the more energizing session activities. Some of the memory pages included asking the campers to write a sentence or two reflecting on the previous session or to answer session specific questions about what they learned. This broke up the monotony of using the binder strictly for arts and crafts. The memory pages also allowed the campers to share with their parents what they were doing and being exposed to each day during the camp. This was especially appreciated by the parents.


As with the profwell ession of nursing, we recognized that the camp would be most effective if we took a multidisciplinary approach. The team building activity was scheduled as the first session on the first day of the camp.  The session was contracted for a fee from the Adventure Program, a company run by university Kinesiology faculty during the summer. The Adventure Program all faculty had the experience and equipment to run two team building sessions. The first involved a variety of name games and problem solving/active learning games using knotted ropes, different types of handshakes and identifying adjectives for each campers name. When the campers first arrived they were shy toward one another. However, after the first team building session they knew each others names and were having fun. The second team building session at the end of the week involved active learning using team building and memory. For example, all campers stood on a blanket; they had to complete tasks as a team such as folding the blanket in half, or turning it over without anyone stepping off of the blanket. At the end of each session the Adventure Program director talked to the campers about how they were able to accomplish the assigned activities using teamwork, communication, listening, and patience.  The fee of $200 for the activity program was built into the camp budget, but was well worth the fee as it was one less session the organizers had design for the new camp.

Additionally, the local community hospital agreed to collaborate in the camp and provided a hospital tour and lunch for the campers. To minimize transportation costs, campers were dropped off and picked up by their parents at the hospital for the day. The campers toured the ER, nursery, in-patient laboratory, and Sim-Man laboratory and were given an overview of physical therapy and other disciplines, such as nursing administration while at the hospital.  The local ambulance association is located a short walking distance from the hospital and agreed to provide a tour of the training facility and overview of what an EMT does.  Each facility was very supportive of the camp and provided free souvenirs such as t-shirts, cups, bags, teddy bears, and pencils that the campers really enjoyed.

Ending Ceremonies

To engage parents and show case the activities that campers were able to accomplish during the week, an ending ceremonies program was designed. The ending ceremony was scheduled for the last session on the last day and all parents were invited to attend. The ceremony consisted of highlights using a video slide show of campers and counselors during the week’s activities. The campers enjoyed seeing themselves on a big screen.  Parents enjoyed viewing what the campers did also, as this was the first year of the camp and they did not know exactly what to expect. One activity that fostered each camper’s self-esteem was when the emcee outlined one characteristic of each camper that would make them a great nurse. Each camper was visibly excited and proud to be listed by name and what personal aspect could be applied to a career in nursing. For example, one camper was exceptionally caring of the baby doll during the maternity session. She was constantly giving the doll kisses and talking to the doll. During the ending ceremonies, she was praised for her caring abilities and told that being caring and compassionate was truly needed in the nursing profession. Finally, each camper was given a certificate of completion with a small gift. The gift was an inexpensive toy, poster, or gift souvenir that helped to highlight the child’s personal interest or special quality noted during the team building activity. For example, one of the campers identified herself as kickball Kayla, indicating that she enjoyed the game of kickball. Her departing gift was a kickball to bring home with her. The hope is that she will be able to share this parting gift with her friends and have something to remember her time at camp.

Evaluation – Recommendations for Next Year

As this camp moves forward, a few changes will be made. Earlier deadlines for registration, reconsideration of providing lunches, and the introduction of scholarships are among the largest changes. Additionally, outreach to the campers to see if their interest in nursing continues is being considered.    

One week before the camp was to begin only five campers were registered. Camp administrators were disappointed but decided to run the camp in hopes of benefiting at least five campers. The week before the camp began six more campers registered, with the final two the Friday before the camp began. Since sign up deadlines were not defined at an earlier time, session designers had to make last minute changes to their plans and number of supplies to accommodate the larger number of campers. Next year a registration deadline of at least the Wednesday before the camp week begins (4-5 days before camp begins) will be advertised and maintained. Again the primary reasoning for this would be to allow sufficient time for planning and obtaining the appropriate amount of supplies.

Camp administrators first thought it would be easier to provide lunch for the campers.  However, some of the campers presented with specific food requests. While no kid went hungry, trying to accommodate the varied taste preferences and nutritional needs took more time and effort than first anticipated. The focus of the camp was for counselors and campers to have fun and support education. Therefore, in future years, the camp will provide morning and afternoon drinks and snacks as part of the registration fee. Additionally, lunches will continue to be provided to volunteers and a few extra lunches available for campers who may forget their lunch.

Another area to be reconsidered was the inclusion of campers who may not be able to afford the camp. One parent who wanted to register their child was prohibited as the registration fee was not in the family budget. For the first year of the camp no scholarship was designed to cover the cost of registration. Designing and marketing a few scholarships is something the camp organizers will review for the next year.

There were a few areas of outreach that assisted with the camp evaluation. During the week, many photos were taken and used in the slide show and camp promotion. Due to time and other responsibilities the camp director was not able to provide printed copies of photographs for the campers and families. The following week when time allowed the director emailed 2-3 photos of their child to parents. Most replied with thank you notes and praise for the camp.

Parent feedback was mostly positive. One parent expressed frustration a few weeks before the camp began by the online registration process. She was anxious to have her child registered early before the online registration process, that was being piloted, was worked out. She needed to contact the camp organizers several times before she was able to register online successfully.  This beginning drawback was resolved and this parent, along with all the others, voiced very positive feedback regarding the organization, quality of activities, and attention that was given to their children. Several of the campers plan to attend the second annual nursing summer camp. One of the campers pleaded with the organizers to design a camp for kids 12-16 so that she could attend again the following year, as she would be too old to meet the camp age requirement.


The camp was able to accomplish the first 4 curricular goals through camp activities and sessions. To outline educational prerequisites for entry into nursing school a printed handout was give to each child and their parents. The handout provided an overview of nursing as a career, types of nursing degrees, prerequisites for nursing schools, tuition, financial aid and available scholarships, and nursing licensing to practice procedures. Recommended website addresses are also provided in Table 2 for more information.

Only time will tell if the camp helped to resolve the nursing shortage. Planners hope all the campers will join nursing in the next nine to thirteen years so they can share in the joys and challenges of the nursing profession. Based on the camper and parent positive feedback, camp organizers and counselors believed they made a difference.  Like most nursing interventions, time will tell. 


  1. American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2008). Opportunity Alert. Retrieved September 15, 2008, from
  2. Buerhaus, P. I., Staiger, D. O., & Auerbach, D. I. (2009). The Future of the Nursing Workforce in the United States: Data, Trends and Implications. Boston: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.
  3. Daumer, R. D., & Britson, V. (2004). Wired for Success: Stimulating Excitement in Nurisng Through aa Summer Camp. Journal of Nursing Education , 43 (3), 130-133.
  4. Dohm, A., & Shniper, L. (2007). Occupational employment projections to 2016. Monthly Labor Review , 130 (11), 86-125.
  5. Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Nurse Camp. Retrieved September 15, 2008, from
  6. Yeager, S. T., & Cheever, K. H. (2007). A Residential Nursing Camp Program: Effects on Adolescent Attitudes Toward Nursing Careers. Journal of Nursing Education , 46 (10), 452-459.