For many children, summer camp is the stuff dreams are made of— roasting marshmallows, horseback riding and tasting independence for the first time.
For children and teenagers with muscular dystrophy, camp can play an even greater role in their lives. At the MDA Summer Camp, campers befriend others with neuromuscular diseases and who share the same experiences.
Eight Chamberlain nursing students recently spent a week caring for 59 campers with physical disabilities at the MDA-sponsored camp in Ingleside, Ill. The group was led by pediatrics nurse Helene Pochopien, MSN, an assistant professor at Chamberlain College of Nursing’s Chicago campus.
“No matter how sick children are, they will always play,” Pochopien said. “They are always smiling. They never say ‘poor me.’ And we can enhance their lives and make them as happy as can be—it gives you a lot back.”
A typical day for the student nurses included the dispensing of medication and treatment of everything from an upset stomach to bouts of homesickness. From lifeguarding to physically moving campers, Chamberlain student nurses “see something that needs to be done and they just do it,” Pochopien said. By all accounts, camp nursing was more rigorous than expected.
“In clinical, we only have one patient at a time,” said Chamberlain student nurse Neemisha Gandhi. “Here, we have many.”
The student nurses’ shifts began when they woke up and ended as they headed to bed. They performed night rounds at midnight and 3 am, entering cabins with flashlights to check on campers and roll over those with limited mobility. During the first night at camp, all the student nurses stayed up until 2 am to separate campers’ medications.
“The Chamberlain student nurses have been a big help,” said camp nurse Joan Hinsdale. “They’re learning a lot about child development—not just neuromuscular diseases, but also about how kids work.”
Chamberlain student nurse Alicia Poston said she was surprised by how emotional and touched she was by the children, who she says never complain and are always excited by the smallest of things. She also had her first feeling of being a “real nurse.”
“You can’t get this in the classroom,” she added. “Our instructor trusts us enough that we each have our group [of campers], and we do what we need to do for them. It’s been such a cherished learning experience.”
In addition to the Chicago camp, Chamberlain student nurses from the Phoenix and St. Louis campuses also completed pediatric clinical rotations this summer at MDA camps.
The Muscular Dystrophy Association is in need of additional medical professionals to volunteer a week of their time caring for MDA campers, including: registered nurses, physicians, physician assistants, respiratory therapists and physical therapists.
Nurses, we’d love to hear from you! When did you first feel like a “real nurse”?
By Molly Mattison
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