If you’re like many parents right now, you’re busy deciding which summer camp your children will be attending and thinking about how to prepare them for a fun, healthy and safe experience away from home.
With those decisions, it’s natural for parents to experience some anxiety; especially for those who have first-time campers or children with chronic health issues.
The following recommendations are based on my years of experience as a family nurse practitioner who has completed hundreds of camp physical exams:
If you’ve yet to make a final camp decision, make sure the options you are considering are the right match for your child’s interests and capabilities. Take into account your child’s age, personality and self-confidence and whether they can perform at the fitness level required for specific activities. Ask about pick-up and drop-off policies and mail, phone and care-package rules. Having an emergency contact list for your child and counselors is essential to help your camper feel safe and emotionally involved and ready.
Camp Health Policies
Review the camp’s health policies and practices. If you can’t readily obtain this information, it could be a red flag.
Websites and camp registration materials should clearly state whether a medical professional such as a nurse or certified athletic trainer (in the case of sports camps) is always on site and whether counselors have received CPR and first-aid training. Other key information is the camp’s parental notification policy and its proximity to emergency medical facilities such as a hospital or urgent-care center.
Determine whether a camp physical is needed. Most camps require this, and often I see parents who wait until the last minute or forget to schedule an appointment. Camp physicals can be obtained from your child’s pediatrician or at a walk-in retail clinic such as MinuteClinic in the Los Angeles area. Health insurance providers will not cover camp and sports physicals, so be sure to ask about the cost in advance. Prices can vary quite a bit.
A proper camp physical should include a review of the child’s health history and immunizations, height and weight check, thorough physical exam and a stamp or signature on exam forms.
Chronic Health Issues
If your child has asthma, diabetes, serious allergies or other chronic health concerns, contact the camp in advance to understand how medicines and preventive treatment are handled and what your child can administer on their own. This could include inhalers for asthma treatment, insulin injections and other prescription medication.
If your child has food allergies, speak with the camp nutritionist or cook to ensure that menus can be tailored to dietary requirements. And if they have a peanut allergy or are allergic to insect stings, determine whether they can carry their own epinephrine auto-injector. Make sure that camp counselors are equipped with an extra auto-injector on site and are trained to administer care.
When you drop your child off at camp, meet with the appropriate staff members and go over the details one last time so there is no miscommunication about what is necessary and expected for your child’s care.
What to Pack
Send your child to camp with broken-in hiking boots; slip-resistant water shoes for showers and the pool; lightweight, long-sleeved shirts for hikes and activities (to protect against ticks, poison ivy and the sun’s rays); adhesive strips for cuts and blisters; hand sanitizer; athlete’s foot medication; lip balm; necessary eye care items including sun glasses, protective goggles for sports, extra contact lenses or glasses; and hats for sun protection. Remember to label everything!
For sun block, choose a broad-spectrum product with an SPF of 30, which blocks 97 percent of UVA and UVB rays with spray and stick options for easier application. Insect repellent (with/without DEET) is available in spray or wipe options.
Your careful planning and preparation should help to ensure a safe journey of fun and growth for your child.
Mary Hull is a mother of three living in San Dimas and a Family Nurse Practitioner at Minute Clinic in Burbank and Pomona. MinuteClinic offers camp physicals at locations inside select CVS pharmacy stores in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and Ventura counties.