An ambulance pulling up in front of Potomac Hospital is not an unusual sight.
But when an ambulance parked in front of the hospital’s main entrance last Friday, something was out of the ordinary.
The ambulance and van were crowded with eager middle school students ready to learn about the equipment and look around inside the vehicles.
The ambulance and Health Connection van were among the final points of interest the 13 children, ages 11 to 13, toured as part of the hospital’s first Discover Nursing Camp, held the last week in July.
A second session of the week-long camp was held this week.
During their tour of the hospital’s Health Connection van, campers were eager to show what they had learned during the week.
Throughout the week, campers toured several departments of Potomac Hospital and the nursing skills lab at George Mason University, participating in hands-on activities in the various departments.
“We went to the ER and OR and got to do and see exciting things,” said Natalie Blanchetti, 11. “We learned to check our heart rate and pulse and do an IV.”
“We learned a lot of cool stuff,” said Kellie Harlow, 11. “We even learned CPR.”
“What do you do if you think you may have a broken bone?” Sally Issler, a nurse practitioner at the hospital and one of the camp instructors, asked the campers who crowded around an examination table in the van.
Anxious hands shot up to offer suggestions of ice, elevation and first aid.
The program gave campers a first-hand look at life as a nurse that they wouldn’t normally get, Issler said.
“Most people only get to have experiences with nurses when they are sick or hurt,” she said.
Campers enjoyed the hands-on experiences the camp offered.
“Seeing things in the hospital and getting to go into the [Health Connection] van was better than just watching videos,” said Eric Leohner, 12.
On the last day of camp, campers participated in a disaster preparedness moulage, in which they learned how the hospital prepares for disaster drills.
The Discover Nursing Camp was designed to introduce middle school students to nursing, said Sherry Dunphy, director of community education at the hospital.
“The purpose of this camp is to let kids know about the nursing field and to expose them to the different careers in nursing and the different kinds of nurses they see in hospitals, school, the community and the workplace,” she said.
The concept for a nursing camp grew out of the need to attract younger people to a career in nursing, Issler said.
Currently the nursing field is experiencing a shortage of young people interested in the career, she said, adding that the average age of nurses nationally is 47 and the average age of nursing faculty is 50.
In response to this need, the Virginia Hospital and Health Care Association offered a grant to hospitals interested in initiating programs designed to develop an interest among young people in the field of nursing.
At Potomac Hospital, the grant money was used to fund the Discover Nursing Camp, in the hopes that the camp would inspire its participants to pursue careers in the field.
“We picked this age group because middle school is when kids really decide on careers and decide what they want to do with their lives,” Issler said.
The campers are also at the point in their lives when they need to figure out what they have to do to achieve those career goals, Dunphy said.
“We decided on this age group because we thought we would really be able to influence them at this age,” she said. “This is the time when they are getting ready for high school and need to start thinking about what classes they should take and what they need to do if they want to get into nursing.”
On the last day of the camp’s first session, several of the campers said their experiences had sparked their interest in nursing.
“I liked seeing the babies in the ICU and postpartum because I think I want to work in postpartum,” said Mercedes Matos, 13.
For other campers, the program reinforced the influence nurses in their family have had on them, Issler said.
“A lot of our campers already knew nurses or have nurses in their families and that’s why they are interested in this,” she said.
Amanda Harpe, 12, enjoyed visiting the neonatal intensive care unit, where her mother is a nurse.
“My mom works in the NICU and I think I want to work there and help the premature babies,” she said.
The hospital is pleased with the results they have seen so far from the camp’s first session. “We’ve had a wonderful group of kids here,” Dunphy said. “They’ve asked some great questions.”
The hospital hopes to expand the camp next summer and attract more interested kids to the program.
“We just want to let more kids know how fun this job is,” Issler said, “I never have a boring day.”