Students Provide Care at Camp Blessing

Camp Blessing 2019

UTMB School of Nursing (SON) offers a variety of high-impact opportunities that shape the educational experience of our students and inform their nursing practice. For the past 10 years, BSN students, in their pediatrics course, have had the opportunity to fulfill their clinical hours at Camp Blessing, a summer camp for children with physical, developmental or intellectual disabilities. Campers are thrilled to participate in the barrier-free gamut of activities including: horseback riding, canoeing, fishing, ropes course, crafts, sports, water games and more. This summer, 21 BSN students were selected to complete their pediatric nursing clinical rotation at Camp Blessing, supervised by 2 Pediatric nursing faculty.

Students were responsible for the physical, social, psychological, and spiritual needs of their campers throughout the week. They provided continuous care for their campers, assisting with activities of daily living, camp activities, and any necessary medical care. They performed clinical skills such as, medication administration, seizure management, g-tube feedings, and administered injections. Students were challenged in their clinical decision-making skills in a fast paced, non-traditional environment. They also served as a medical/nursing resource to non-medical volunteers in their cabins.

"I was a little nervous at first on how to care for children of varying abilities. I wanted to make sure I did everything right," says Milan. After four weeks in her pediatrics course, and attending the required pre-camp preparation sessions, she felt more confident and excited to serve where she was needed. "I was grateful that our faculty members, the cabin leaders and camp administrators prepared us well."

"We felt really proud to be from UTMB. Everyone there knew that we were nursing students and that we were learning. They taught us the best communication styles, and we provided a valuable perspective from a health care lens. It was a collaborative effort and we felt so grateful to help in any way we could," Milan continued.

Faculty members, Shelly Nalbone, MS, APRN, CPNP and Laura Butler, MS, RN mentored the 21 students during this experience. "During the week, our students were able to creatively negotiate controlled choices with their campers and they navigated through numerous challenging experiences with special needs children and teens. Although this is not a traditional hospital based clinical rotation, the students were able to apply clinical knowledge into practice throughout the week and truly live the 'art of nursing'. A non-traditional clinical experience is an excellent opportunity for students to showcase their innate abilities to connect with people and each of them rose to the occasion! All of these skills will serve the students well as they transition into their careers as professional nurses. We are so proud of the knowledge and empathy that these students attained at Camp Blessing."

While only 21 students attended Camp Blessing, their classmates supported their efforts by writing encouraging letters to their classmates, helping to collect donations for the camp, and raised $3,300 for camper scholarships. "Camp Blessing is a group effort by the entire cohort," says Bonnie K. Webster MS, RN, BC, the pediatric nursing course coordinator.

"The opportunity to serve at Camp Blessing and complete my pediatric clinical here was the primary reason I applied and accepted admissions to UTMB School of Nursing. I heard about this from my peers from Texas A&M who previously graduated from UTMB and this opportunity was a convincing factor for me," Lexie explained. "And the experience was so much more than I imagined. I feel more prepared to work in pediatrics. This was the most empowering and challenging thing I have ever done." Lexie has always wanted to work in pediatrics, but now feels more confident that a career in pediatrics is her calling. "I have a better perspective on how to be supportive of the family. The camp did a great job instilling confidence in everyone."

Upon returning from camp, the students presented their evidence-based practice presentations covering topics such as: the use of homeopathic supplements in children with chronic illness, impact of non-medical interventions on children, and the psychological impact of a child who has a special need. The students used their experiences at Camp Blessing to integrate their coursework with their clinical experience to educate their peers on the topics. "The entire semester was very inspiring," said Ms. Webster.

The Camp Blessing experience is life changing for not only the campers, but our students as well. This was evident in their evaluation of this clinical experience. Quotes from these evaluations include:

"I truly understood what it means to be a patient's advocate because he relied on me for his physical, emotional, and mental needs for the entire week. I observed just how much they can express & how they feel without words."

"This pediatric rotation was the most challenging week I had ever experienced. The growth that came from pushing myself and being completely out of my comfort zone is exponential and I plan to use these skills throughout my nursing profession. I would recommend anyone, especially in the nursing field, to spend a week caring holistically for a special needs child, because it creates an awareness inside of you that I think is hard to find elsewhere."

The UTMB School of Nursing will continue to partner with Camp Blessing each summer and we look forward to the opportunity to contribute again next year.