It’s that time of year, when I typically take a week off to volunteer at one of the nation’s premier summer camps. It’s always an adventure. I’m hoping that despite COVID surges in the area that we have what we previously would have considered a “normal” summer camp experience. Of course, there will be masks indoors when we are in close quarters, but there will be plenty of time to run around in the great outdoors and for the campers to have fun with their friends.
It’s been a scorcher across large parts of the US over the last couple of weeks. I’m hoping for at least a little break so that I don’t have to spend the week treating heat exhaustion, headaches, and dehydration. I’d much rather be teaching fire building, knots, lashings, and wilderness survival skills.
Although the camp offers most of the traditional activities like fishing, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, archery, and various other shooting sports, it also offers some great STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) options. Welding is available, as are programs in movie making, game design, electronics, and geocaching. There is something for everyone. Usually the best part of the day is dinner, where an adult sits with each table of campers and gets to ask questions about their day and what they liked best.
I always get some interesting questions about what I do in my real life. The staff knows I’m a physician, but they also know I do something with computers on the side. Almost every adult has used a patient portal by this point, so I use that as a way of explaining the kind of work I do and how we help physicians make better use of information and that we help patients have a better experience. There are usually a lot of questions about what kinds of things we can do as telehealth physicians.
Although this camp is old school as far as facilities, I’ve worked with camps in the past that have remote examination setups that really deliver as far as telehealth infrastructure. Given the fact that this particular property is about 30 minutes from a very capable rural hospital, I’m not surprised that they opt to send campers into town if they need more than what we can offer on site.
Since I’m in the middle of a major project, I’ve got my wi-fi hotspot at the ready in case I need to join any calls (courtesy of my public library, which lets you check them out for a couple of weeks at a time). However, for the first time in a long time, I’m working with an extremely capable team, and I would be surprised if I hear from them. There might be something that they need that requires a physician credential to accomplish, but it’s nice to know that they’ve got my back and I can actually take time off without worrying that I’ll walk into a disaster when I return.
I’m sure that some of the people on the team think I’m a little loopy to do this kind of thing for fun, but at least one of my co-workers has made me promise to take pictures of a couple of things I’ve talked about, so I hope I can deliver. I’m just hoping this year is better than the experience I had a couple of years ago, when I ended up with a squirrel leaping from a tree to my head when I least expected it. Honestly, not having a squirrel in your hair seems a low bar when you think about it.
As a consultant, some of my major areas of work included change leadership and teambuilding. I have to say, although I have had plenty of formal training in those disciplines, some of the best training I have had has been in outdoor programs like this one. A very wise man once said, “A week of camp life is worth six months of theoretical teaching in the meeting room.” Having done this for many years, I have to agree. It’s extremely gratifying to see young people learn new skills and discover that they are more capable than they ever thought. This generation of campers has had a couple of summers of COVID-related modifications, and many of these experiences will be new to them. They will be challenged to try things outside of their comfort zones and will be allowed to fail in a safe and supportive environment. They will also probably get sunburned and get lots of mosquito bites because they’re pre-teens and teens and they won’t heed our warnings, but those too will be growth experiences.
For some of the oldest campers who come back year after year, I’ve worked with them since 5th grade and they’re now high school seniors. They’ve had phenomenal growth emotionally and mentally (and also physically, since most of the eldest tower above me). It’s been a pleasure seeing them take leadership roles and I enjoy seeing how the youngest campers look up to them and start to envision what they might look like in a few years. Many of last year’s graduating class headed into tech fields, and one of my older campers from many years ago is now applying to medical school. I hope that as they head to college and into the real world that they take the problem-solving skills that they learned at summer camp with them and figure out how to apply them, not only to the challenges of today, but to what we might run into tomorrow.
If there’s anything we’ve learned since 2020, it’s that life can always throw you a curve ball and we have to figure out how to rise to the occasion. Although I’m looking forward to a week relatively off the grid, I know I’ll come back energized and ready to get back to work (even though my body will be tired). Being around young people with so much potential and so much eagerness to learn always delivers a spark.
Who’s ready for some basketry, rock climbing, and whittling? Leave a comment or email me.
Email Dr. Jayne.