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Third year of Nurse Camp offers opportunity for under-represented students


University of Washington associate professor Elaine Walsh, RN, PhD, got a bit of a shock this year when she sat in front of her computer.

“I got an email that said, ‘Are you available for a speed date?’ Walsh recalled. “It scared me a little.”

As it turned out, Walsh was being invited by a member of the school’s Diversity Awareness Group, better known as the DAwGs, to participate in the third annual Nurse Camp, which took place in July on the Seattle campus and is a collaborative effort between the UW School of Nursing and UW Medical Center.

The free camp for high school sophomores and juniors is geared toward low-income and minority students. The goal of the camp is to provide a smooth path into college for underprivileged and underrepresented students in the Puget Sound area.

Kimmy Chu, a student in the UW doctor of nursing program specializing in family nurse practitioner, was one of the driving forces behind creating the first Nurse Camp three years ago as a member of the DAwGs. With support from Carolyn Chow, MA, the SON director of admissions and multicultural student affairs, Chu and three other students established the first Nurse Camp as a way to reach out to the community.

“Staff nurses at UWMC love having the students come to do four hours of shadowing, which is part of the camp experience,” said Lauren Cline, RN, MN, UWMC clinical nurse educator, nurse staff development. Cline has been a collaborative partner with the camp since its inception. “Our nurses look forward to the students returning next year.”

“Our population is becoming more and more diverse,” Chu said. “We have people coming into this country trying to receive care, and they’re not able to get the best care that they need because they’re not able to communicate their needs or wants when they’re at their hospital stays or clinic visits.”

Going camping

Not all students wishing to attend the camp are invited. This year, a field of 80 applicants had to be narrowed to 24 campers.

“Prospective campers go through a rigorous application process designed to give them a taste of what it is like to apply to nursing school,” Chow said. “They have to fill out a comprehensive application, write essays, get a letter of recommendation from a teacher or supervisor, fill out a resume form, get transcripts, and send everything in by the deadline.”

The DAwGs then review the applications and select campers based on such criteria as academic performance, fit with nursing and healthcare professions, and potential to succeed in the camp and as a future nursing student.

The camp takes place eight hours a day for five days and includes everything from HIPAA training to shadowing nurses on the job to learning about applying for financial aid.

Chu said the “speed date” portion of the camp is popular with campers. Students get to meet all of the nurses at the camp, spending five to seven minutes with each, before sitting down to lunch with them.

Walsh, who has volunteered for Nurse Camp the past two years, absolutely loved what she saw during her speed date sessions.

“We are so in need of a more diverse workforce in nursing,” Walsh said. “I looked around the room and I thought, ‘This is just what we need.’ We have kids from different economic, ethnic, cultural backgrounds.

“We need a few more nurses that look like the patients we’re serving.”

An instructor in the Department of Psychosocial and Community Health whose current research includes partnering with school districts to implement suicide prevention programs, Walsh said it is important for people like her to make themselves accessible to students, which is why she jumped at the chance to return for this year’s camp.

“I think we need to make ourselves real, that nurses and faculty are people who want to help them, want to be with them,” Walsh said.

“I personally find it really energizing. The enthusiasm the high school students have, the questions they have, they’re so much more together than I was 30, 40 years ago.”

Making it happen

Although this year’s camp ran smoothly, Chu said it wasn’t easy in the beginning. Her advice to anyone considering organizing a similar camp: Ask for help.

“I learned that it’s not possible to do the work yourself,” Chu said. “You really have to reach out to other people.”

She said the SON’s website has been a valuable tool for spreading the word about the camp. DAwGs also attend the SON recognition banquet each year and discuss the program with nurses and students.

The camp is funded through monetary and in-kind donations from students, staff and faculty at the school as well as from members of the community, including local businesses and nurses. DAwGs work throughout the year fundraising and organizing the camp, but the payoff is worth it.

“I had so many Nurse Camp alumni that wanted to come back to volunteer that I had to limit them to a day. They all wanted to come back the entire week,” Chu said. “They absolutely enjoyed it.”

• More information about Nurse Camp is available online at

• View the photo gallery at


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Tom Clegg is a freelance writer.

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