Happy camper

Working as a camp doctor during my pediatrics residency

Patricia Hoffman, DO, recounts her time serving as a camp doctor during her pediatrics residency, and how the opportunity provided learning experiences and affirmations.

Looking for a fun way to spend your summer while expanding knowledge of your specialty and gaining valuable clinical experience? Consider serving as a camp physician in your field of interest.

In addition to swimming, hiking and campfires, summer camp provides children with a safe environment for developing social skills, building character and promoting independence. I enjoyed camp as a camper when I was younger and was even more excited to go back as a camp physician.

Last summer, I volunteered to serve as a member of the medical team at a camp for children with rheumatic diseases called Camp JRA (Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis) in Millville, Pennsylvania. I worked under the supervision of a fully licensed attending pediatric rheumatology physician.

I was interested in this camp because of my previous experience as a summer camp counselor, and my goal is to be a pediatric rheumatologist. This role provided me the opportunity to further explore my subspeciality of interest and meet other members of the medical team, including attendings, fellows, nurse practitioners, nurses and therapists.

The camp provided both informative lectures as well as traditional camp fun. For example, I provided a lecture reviewing the anatomy of synovial joints to the older teenage campers to connect the anatomy, physiology and pathology with their symptomatology. I incorporated active learning by having campers sketch a knee synovial joint, which was helpful in providing campers with a better understanding of their disease processes.

Outside of these sessions, campers participated in many outdoor activities including rock climbing, ziplining, archery, swimming and biking. I was constantly amazed by the full participation of campers in these activities, with minimal flares, and I was happy to participate in the camp fun alongside them!

The flares that did occur provided opportunities to learn more from my campers about the complexity of rheumatic diseases. The medical team evaluated the joint at hand, performed a thorough physical exam, and treated with ice, heat and oral and topical anti-inflammatory medications. The importance of daily use of rheumatic medicines administered while at camp and at home attributed to the minimal number of flares present at camp.

Witnessing campers have fun and be independent affirmed my decision to pursue a career in Pediatric Rheumatology with the goal of improving quality of life for patients with chronic conditions. Many campers had not had the opportunity to gather for some time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was powerful to witness the power of community among so many people with similar conditions.

Residency training is notorious for severely limiting free time, but I would highly recommend unique opportunities like this one for any pediatric resident. In addition to learning from the medical team and the campers themselves, I came away with renewed excitement for my future career and rediscovered the joy of being a camper.

Related reading:

How to make medical training an awe-filled adventure

How important are extracurriculars in med school?

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