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Summer HEAT nursing camp: First-year experiences in program development

By: Margot Fox, MSN, RN, CNE; Kendall Henderson, MSN, RN; Amy Curtis, PhD, RN, CHSE; Meghan Jones, MSN, RN, ACNPC-AG; and Kelly Strickland, MSN, RN

The authors describe a fun way to help students explore career options. 


· Nursing faculty facilitate an interactive career exploration camp for high school students interested in health professions.

· Professional nursing roles, skills, and educational pathways are introduced via creative, interactive experiences in the nursing school’s classrooms, labs, and simulation center.

· Camp experiences enhance understanding of educational pathways to nursing for youth who may have limited resources for postsecondary educational opportunities.


Careerexploration programs provide teens with hands-on learning experiences and introduce them to practicing healthcare professionals, skills, roles, and educational pathways. Research supports these programs to help high school students make informed career decisions 

Outreach programs at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, a southeastern land-grant school, include popular and wellestablished academic, athletic, and career summer camps. However, healthcare career camps weren’t available. Nursing faculty developed and implemented a 5-day innovative camp curriculum to meet requests for career exploration opportunities for teens. 

Organization support

Nursing camps and careerexploration programs aren’t new, but we found limited resources to help us develop an engaging hands-on program with accurate portrayals of contemporary nursing roles. As faculty nurse educators, we’re comfortable in academic and clinical learning environments with college students, but developing a new program to engage teens for 5 days was initially overwhelming. However, Summer HEAT (Health Education with Auburn Tigers), a week-long residential nursing camp facilitated by Auburn University School of Nursing (AUSON) faculty, is now an outreach program for career exploration that we look forward to annually. 

Staff from Auburn Youth Programs: Office of Professional and Continuing Education coordinate logistics for universitysponsored camps, including recruitment, enrollment, lodging, meals, and counselors, allowing faculty time to focus on curriculum design and daily session implementation. 

Our initial framework of activities is a general resource for developing individualized 1-day or multi-day career exploration programs by leaders in varied organizations, including nursing schools, hospitals, middle and high schools, and community groups. We’re sharing our experiences, lessons learned, and future recommendations as an example for developing these programs in other communities.  

Program development

Initial program development for Summer HEAT was a 6-month collaborative effort. Camp codirectors led a planning team of five faculty nurse educators in three brainstorming sessions. The team determined that engaging teens in a 5-day program would require enthusiastic facilitators and wellplanned, creative, interactive experiences. Professional nursing roles, skills, and educational pathways emerged as primary focus areas; however, faculty also wanted to integrate exposure to other medical professions for an accurate portrayal of today’s team approach to healthcare delivery. A graduate teaching assistant (GTA) helped develop participant objectives and active learning activities. To ensure student safety, some nursing skills teaching strategies were adapted using psychomotor developmental guidelines for high school students. Curriculum components in the firstyear template were designed to facilitate understanding of professional nursing and other healthcare occupations through hands-on skills training, health education, competitive games, career resources, and discussion of nonstereotypical nursing roles.  

Camp week

Twenty-seven upcoming ninth through twelfth graders from across the country attended the inaugural camp. Program sessions were held in the school’s skills and simulation labs, with the exception of an off-campus visit to a regional medical facility. Faculty members and clinical associates organized supplies, set up skills stations, and led program sessions. Staffing needs were determined by the activity complexity, with at least two facilitators present for each session and up to six assisting at skills stations. Each afternoon ended with a debriefing session, a guided reflection and discussion, and games to review the day’s content. (See Camp schedule.)

Camp schedule

Each day of camp is full of engaging activities that give campers ample opportunity to learn about nursing.

Morning and afternoon sessions are 2.5 to 3 hours each, with time for breaks and lunch. Games are used as schedule enhancers when needed and for transition between activities.


Collegiate counselors assigned by Auburn Youth Programs accompanied camp participants to daily sessions and provided supervision throughout the week. When not in sessions, participants experienced campus life through dorm lodging, on-campus meals, and group activities with participants in other specialty camps. 

Day 1 

The fast pace of day one was designed to engage participants as quickly as possible and to create a positive foundation for the week ahead. The morning session combined discussion topics and interactive activities. 

  • “Icebreaker” activities facilitated introductions and team building.  
  • Student teams visited interactive stations designed as health education conversation starters to promote rapport among team members and program facilitators. Example activities include: 
  • Hand hygiene: Participants applied glitter gel, washed hands, used an ultraviolet light to observe “germs” left behind, and received instructions in good handwashing techniques.  
  • Medical terminology: Campers were challenged to spell as many medical words as possible using wooden game letters. The number of accurate words created counted toward a team score.  
  • Safety check: Team members entered a simulated patient’s room and identified safety concerns, such as elevated bed height, side rails down, and multiple medications spilled at the bedside. Teams received a score for the number of correctly identified safety hazards.  

Presentations and skills stations continued during the afternoon session and included: 

  • a guest panel comprising eight nurses, who shared their diverse healthcare experiences and professional roles 
  • a medication administration skills station. 

The day concluded with a reflective debriefing session, team games to review content, and a preview of the next day’s schedule. 

Days 2, 3, and 4 

Over the next 3 days, faculty and guest speakers provided insights into healthcare professions, nursing roles, and technical skills using interactive presentations and activity stations. Learning activities for a careerexploration program are limitless and can incorporate diverse strategies. Faculty, community members, healthcare agencies, and nursing students participated in activities. For example: 

  • guest speakers and faculty explored professional nursing roles in maternal-child health, surgery, emergency medicine, and other fields 
  • video and head-to-toe demonstrations were used to highlight the importance of thorough physical assessments  
  • students tried surgical skills, such as suturing, stapling, and sterile gloving 
  • wilderness and firstaid survival instruction were paired with opportunities to practice splinting and bloodloss prevention skills  
  • active learning stations showcased healthcare technical skills, such as bystander cardiopulmonary resuscitation, vital signs, and venipuncture 
  • two trained therapy dogs navigated the room and greeted campers before discussions about the psychosocial benefits of CAREing Paws, an animalassisted therapy program developed by an AUSON colleague 
  • academic advisors and career counselors offered valuable information and led questionandanswer sessions on educational pathways to nursing and other healthcare professions. 

Day 5 

The program concluded with a camp debrief (post-camp survey, team awards, and group reflection), followed by a closing ceremony (dean’s remarks, certificate presentation, Q & A and skills demonstration) attended by parents and guardians. 

Program evaluation  

Reflection after the inaugural Summer HEAT session, led by faculty and guided by anecdotal remarks from campers, revealed strengths and opportunities for improvement. 


Identifying focus areas for the week helped faculty keep their objectives in mind. Guided by these objectives, the 6-month preparation period was used to carefully plan each activity to maximize student learning. Gathering and sorting supplies needed for each activity, according to the day they were used, was beneficial to volunteer faculty. The hands-on skills were based on clinical skills AUSON students perform during their first semester of classes, which created a smooth transition for faculty to teach the campers. Students who attended the camp appreciated learning these skills and gained a better understanding of the critical thinking needed to complete nursing tasks.  

Opportunities for improvement 

The focus areas established during the planning period overlapped in multiple activities, which made learning objectives vague for the students. Improvements for future camps include assigning overall themes or areas of nursing for each day of the camp, supplemented by clearly defined objectives for each learning exercise. Flexibility throughout the week also is necessary when planning a camp session. The different learning abilities and styles of each camper should be considered when creating each day’s schedule. If students are enjoying a specific experience, faculty should consider allowing more time to continue learning and perhaps foregoing another planned activity.  

Lessons learned and future plans

Positive evaluations from campers, parents, and representatives from Auburn Youth Programs encouraged the camp directors to continue offering a 5-day Summer HEAT session each academic calendar year. 

Although the nursing profession was the primary focus during the inaugural session, future curriculum design will include an interprofessional approach collaborating with other university departments including pharmacy, kinesiology, nutrition, medicine, communications, and human development and family services. Future camps also will introduce campers on day 1 to case studies that they’ll follow throughout the week. Teaching sessions will focus on themes (such as emergency, surgery, and labor and delivery) and introduce those themes in coordination with the case studies. Future plans also include teaching sessions lasting no more than 20 minutes followed by interactive skills demonstrations, simulations, discussions, and games.  

Ongoing recruitment will focus on youth from surrounding communities, including at-risk and minority students who might otherwise perceive themselves as having no access to postsecondary education and who have limited resources for accessing healthcare professions education. Faculty are dedicated to seeking internal and external funding sources for “camperships” to the students and are positively supported by the AUSON dean, associate dean, and development officers.   


The authors work at Auburn University school of nursing in Auburn, Alabama. Margot Fox is an assistant clinical professor; Kendall Henderson is an assistant clinical professor; Amy Curtis is an assistant clinical professor; Meghan Jones is director of clinical simulations and skills; and Kelly Strickland is an assistant clinical professor. 


Selected references

Barnett E. Building Student Momentum from High School into College. Jobs for the Future. February 2016.files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED564836.pdf 

Daumer RD, Britson V. Wired for success: Stimulating excitement in nursing through a summer camp. J Nurs Educ. 2004;43(3):130-3. 

Noone J. The diversity imperative: Strategies to address a diverse nursing workforce. Nurs Forum. 2008;43(3):133-43. 

Pollard DL, Kuiper R, Meredith CM. Camp BONES: A partnership initiative to engage underrepresented adolescents in a career in nursing at the baccalaureate level. J Nurs Educ. 2010;49(2):108-15. 

Redding DA, Riech S, Prater MA. Teen camp: A unique approach to recruit future nurses. Nurs Forum. 2004;39(2):5-10. 



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