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Nursing Professors Work to Bring Rich Cultural Experience to Students

RELEASED: Oct. 24, 2008

EAU CLAIRE — Several nursing professors at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire are working to make it possible to share a summer nursing experience they believe to be educationally and culturally enriching with their undergraduate nursing students.

Dr. Cheryl Lapp
Dr. Lee-Ellen Kirkhorn
Dr. Cheryl Lapp

Dr. Lee-Ellen Kirkhorn and Dr. Cheryl Lapp, associate professors of nursing, are seeking funding for a project that would bring student nurses to Camp Chi, an overnight summer camp located on Lake Blass near Wisconsin Dells and the village of Lake Delton.

Affiliated with the Jewish Community Centers of Chicago, the camp serves Jewish boys and girls aged 9 to 16 years old. Besides the usual summer camp activities, the camp includes a strong focus on Jewish culture and rituals, and a program that welcomes a number of campers from Israel each summer and teaches about its land and people.

Kirkhorn, who spent about a week last summer as a camp nurse, said the experience convinced her that bringing student nurses to the camp would be a wonderfully beneficial arrangement for the nursing students and the campers.

"Besides offering a valuable clinical experience, the opportunity to learn about Jewish values and culture through summer camp offers UW-Eau Claire nursing students and faculty a small, yet important window through which we may better understand global health issues," Kirkhorn said. "We can also gain interesting geopolitical insights and perspectives as seen through the eyes of Israeli children and adolescents and their families."

Kirkhorn said the nursing students would get to experience an environment that is diverse and global without the expense of foreign travel during this time of tightening budgets.

"It's quite incredible to sit at dinner and have a conversation with campers from Israel who can tell you what it's like to live in an environment where they feel constantly threatened," Kirkhorn said.

Norah Airth-Kindree, a UW-Eau Claire clinical nursing instructor who has been a camp nurse at Camp Chi for eight years, said another important aspect of the experience is the many international staff members recruited by camp director Ron Levin.

"Sometimes the tennis teachers are from Australia, the high ropes course instructors are from New Zealand or the pool staff are from England, and many of the kitchen staff comes from Poland, Russia or the Ukraine," Airth-Kindree said. "There are Israeli staff members too."

Student nurses would be supervised by faculty in basic first aid procedures, health screening and physical assessment, and administration of medication to campers, Kirkhorn said. They would have many opportunities to model and teach basic wellness skills to campers, such as the importance of frequent hand washing or of drinking extra water on hot days, as well as general principles of healthy eating and exercise, she said.

"As a clinical site, Camp Chi would give UW-Eau Claire nursing students' exposure to the pediatric population and demonstrate that nursing does not just involve an acute care setting," Airth-Kindree said. "It would help them understand how important prevention is and how many 'teachable moments' there are in nursing especially — with children."

Diane Marcyjanik, another UW-Eau Claire clinical nursing instructor who spent five weeks at Camp Chi this past summer, said she found the experience valuable.

"Camp Chi enabled me to experience immersion in the Jewish culture," Marcyjanik said. "The Camp Chi staff is dedicated to helping children reach their potential through a collaborative effort that you become a part of and experience every day."

However, all faculty members spoke of the challenges of providing health care to more than 600 campers involved in a variety of activities spread over a 600-acre camp.

"Top priority for a camp nurse is to ensure that the children have excellent health care while at camp," Marcyjanik said. "A camp nurse must be flexible, innovative and creative."

Kirkhorn said camp nurses and resident doctor deal with everything from rashes, sun-related problems, upper respiratory infections and injuries to chronic problems like allergies, asthma or diabetes, and emotional and psychological problems such as depression, autism, and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders. In addition, many of the 40 or so children who come from Israel speak no English, so translators are needed and nurses must work through them.

Lapp said she believes that the fact that camp is something of an escape from regular life would be a plus for the nursing students.

"On campus and at home our students have so many distractions, but at the camp students can really get away from it all and focus on their work," Lapp said.

And the work offers experiences that aren't typical in other clinical settings in Wisconsin.

"It is a great benefit whenever we care for persons with diverse cultural backgrounds because it sharpens our listening and physical assessment skills," Kirkhorn said.

Lapp also believes that having student nurses involved might inspire some of the campers to consider nursing as a career, and working with children and adolescents might steer some of the nursing students toward specialization in pediatric or emergency room nursing.

Lapp and Kirkhorn envision a pilot program involving eight to 10 undergraduate nurses in their junior or senior year. Upon completion of the pilot, they would evaluate the program based on site visits and feedback gathered from students, campers, and the staff and director of Camp Chi. A positive evaluation might result in a joint decision to continue the partnership and possibly expand the program to include graduate nurses and an elder hostel program that is located on the grounds of Camp Chi.

Levin said he was excited about the possibility of a partnership between the UW-Eau Claire College of Nursing and Health Sciences and the camp.

"We see as many as 100 kids per day and it would help us a lot to have student nurses to provide that extra bit of attention and to help with triage, medications and documentation," Levin said. "I think it will be a nice step for the nursing students too and help them get experience in a unique environment."

Nursing students would keep journals while at Camp Chi and have an opportunity to share their experiences through poster presentations at local and regional nursing conferences held during the academic year, or by submitting articles for publication to nursing journals.

For more information on the Camp Chi proposal, contact Kirkhorn at 715-835-5005 or or Lapp at 715-836-5629 or lappca@uwe.cedu.



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