By Sarah Wengert
Come September, most of us adults can no longer include the joyful experience of sleepaway camp on our end-of-summer recap lists. Meaning, no more archery, canoeing, or campfire singalongs with new pals, followed by delightfully gooey S’mores. For those of legal age, this is just another reason getting older can be a bummer sometimes.
However, this is not that story.
This is the story of four dedicated Medical Solutions clinicians who hacked the conventions of adulthood by working at a SeriousFun Children’s Network camp throughout summer 2023! Through our partnership with SeriousFun, Leslie Anderson, Maggie Belensz, Cassie Flannigan, and Genevieve Mertens served as Medical Solutions’ funded residential nurses at SeriousFun’s Double H Ranch.
Now, as the pumpkin spice lattes flow and the nights grow longer, we wanted to share some “What I Did This Summer” stories from this quartet of happy camp nurses.
Wait — What’s SeriousFun?
In 1988, actor Paul Newman launched a Connecticut camp for children with serious illnesses — a fun, safe, old-fashioned camp experience where they could disconnect from being full-time patients and reconnect with being kids. SeriousFun Children’s Network grew out of that first location and now boasts 30 camps worldwide. According to SeriousFun, these camps aim to “empower children with serious illnesses and their families to reimagine what is possible by creating inclusive camp and recreational experiences, inspiring confidence and joy, and building community and connection.” Even better, this camp is provided free of charge to kids and their families.
Campers benefit from the crucial healing power of happiness, laughter, and new friendships while creating memorable experiences that may have otherwise seemed off-limits. The healthcare professionals serving at camp can support campers’ medical needs, which is crucial in making these experiences possible.
Medical Solutions launched our SeriousFun partnership in 2015, supporting one nurse at one camp, Roundup River Ranch in Colorado. The partnership grew, and we now sponsor up to 30 clinicians each summer to work at multiple camps nationwide.
How the Double H Fab Four Spent Their Summer
This year was an encore performance for Anderson, Belensz, Flannigan, and Mertens, who each returned to Double H this year for a second summer. As residential nurses, they lived on-site for the duration of the summer 2023 season. Each of them had life experiences and happy memories of camp from before they became nurses — as campers, camp volunteers, or camp counselors.
In addition to the obvious benefits of spending their summer in a beautiful outdoor environment, the Medical Solutions nurses who accept camp jobs at SeriousFun tend to enjoy the professional refresh and reset they feel after this unique assignment.
“I come back every summer for the campers and the community, and it helps me be an even better nurse the rest of the year,” said Mertens. “It reminds me why I love nursing so much and brings me back to why I became a nurse in the first place.”
Flannigan agreed that working as a residential nurse at Double H helps renew her spirit as a healthcare pro and broadens her perspective on her work year-round.
“My why is being able to see the kids outside of the hospital environment and really be welcomed into their lives as they try new things and go on new adventures … to be able to support them in a medical way using my nursing skills,” she said. “To see them thrive outside of the hospital environment gives me hope to go back to work [despite everything] going on in nursing and how hard it is sometimes. It gives me a lot of joy and rejuvenated energy to go back and do different things throughout nursing.”
Anderson also emphasized that camp shakes up her perspective and helps her strive to be the best nurse she can be. Additionally, she said, it simply brings her great joy.
“Camp has broken me out of the traditional hospital realm,” said Anderson. “Being able to enjoy kids in this environment and bringing in creative ways to make things adaptable, accessible, and safe for the sole purpose of providing a fun and memorable experience has shown me what healthcare can be and how I can be a better nurse because of it.”
For Belensz, the vibrancy and connectedness of camp ease the understandable nurse burnout that comes from her roles in traditional facilities.
“It’s a real reset for me as a nurse,” Belensz said. “I get to come to camp and be refreshed by the camp energy and magic, and [seeing] kids on their best days instead of on their worst days. I feel ready to go back to my work by the end of the summer, so it’s helped with my burnout, and I hope I can do it as long as I can.”
Some of these “best days” come from campers being able to participate in classic camp traditions like arts and crafts and outdoor activities. At Double H, summer activities include a high ropes course, animal barn, indoor theater performance area, pool, playground, archery area, softball field, and science discovery zones.
Nurses are called to care, and supporting sick kids in a non-standard environment lets these clinicians continue to see the patient from many angles while supporting them in their medical needs. This gives the campers a freedom that’s often otherwise unobtainable.
“I come to camp every year because it’s a place where kids can just be kids, and their diagnosis can fade away, and we can just remember everything so they can just have fun,” said Belensz.
According to Emo Castle, Nursing Advisor for all U.S.-based SeriousFun camps, this is exactly the plan.
“We remember, so they can forget,” said Castle.
At Camp “Anything Is Possible”
In addition to helping staff, fund, and support camp nurses, Medical Solutions sends several corporate employees each year to volunteer at SeriousFun summer camps. Louise Keller, Medical Solutions Employee Experience Team Lead, visited Double H to help out and get a taste of the SeriousFun camp experience.
“Camp is a special place for these kids,” she said. “Time stops when they’re there — the outside world and all of its troubles fade away, and they just get to have fun.”
Keller said at the beginning of the season, campers and their families check in with the nurses to discuss their medical needs. All of this has already been extensively reviewed and documented before camp, but the check-in lets everyone connect on a human level. After that, each camper has license to forget about everything related to their illness and just be a kid at camp. Clinicians provide care on any level needed, whether that’s administering meds, bandaging cuts and scrapes, or helping prepare healthy meals.
“Camp allows these kids to do things they didn’t think they could do — the nurses work hard to adapt, plan, and make every activity safe, regardless of the camper’s medical needs,” said Keller. “They do so in a ‘behind the scenes’ way, so the kids don’t realize. The nurses love that the kids don’t know how much time and effort went into ensuring their safety — they just think they did something cool and fun and dangerous!”
SeriousFun creates memorable, sustainable connections between all camp community members. Keller witnessed opening day for summer 2023 session five and was awed at the joyous energy surrounding arrivals.
“[I saw] a bus load of campers arrive to be greeted by loud music, cheering counselors, hugs, and ‘welcome home’ greetings,” Keller said. “One camper was so happy to be back they commented while checking in, ‘Thank goodness those 365 days are over.’ The pure joy and excitement at being back at camp was palpable.”
After that year-long wait to return, Keller said “time stops when you are at camp.”
“The outside world and all its troubles fade away, and they just get to have fun,” she said. “Those familiar songs, games, traditions, and a feeling of coming home take over, and there’s a feeling that anything is possible.”
WOW. Can I Work at a SeriousFun Camp?
Depending on your specialty, you just might be able to! Typically, pediatrics, emergency/urgent care, pediatric emergency, and critical care/ICU are most in demand for these roles. Due to the high level of interest, recruiting for SeriousFun camps starts earlier each year. We typically send a communication when recruiting begins in winter/early spring, so make sure you’re subscribed to receive our emails.
It’s also a good idea to tell your recruiter you’re interested as soon as possible. Then, when the time comes, you can partner with them to submit your resume for SeriousFun roles. Before you know it, you might find yourself living the summer camp dream — contributing your skills and experience to support an incredible mission, all while experiencing a unique, perspective-shifting adventure!
Sarah Wengert is a senior content specialist for Medical Solutions.