Students get hands on at hospital nurse camp

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By Jessica Keller

The Courier-Herald

A routine laparoscopic Skittle-ectomy was performed in the old operating rooms of Tacoma General Hospital June 14.

The patient - a mannequin; the doctors and nurses - 30 high school students from Pierce and King counties. And the occasion was the inaugural MultiCare Summer Nurse Camp.

The mannequin's Skittles were successfully removed and the students were exposed to more duties involved in nursing and the allied health fields.

That was the point of the nurse camp, according to Lorri Sensel, one of the camp coordinators. The Nurse Camp provided the students a chance to explore nursing as a career for a week at Tacoma General Hospital and Mary Bridge Children's Hospital, and hopefully interested them enough to continue in the nursing field.

"We wanted to get them young, and get them interested in nursing and health care," Sensel said, adding a focus of the camp was to stress the importance of math, science and education needed in nursing while the students were still in their early high school years. "So many of them didn't understand the amount of education and prerequisites they'll need."

While attending camp, the kids joined professional nurses and other health care providers in the emergency department, intensive care unit and surgical care areas, inpatient units, birthing center, neonatal intensive care and oncology departments, to name a few. They also got to try hands on nursing duties, such as suturing, stapling, the Skittle-ectomy, drawing blood and more. They shadowed a nurse for a day, tested their critical thinking skills and at the end of the week, received a stethoscope, certificate and pin for their efforts.

"They learned a lot, but not just about nursing" Sensel said. "They learned there was more to the medical field than just doctors and nurses."

The kids selected were among 65 applicants, all freshman or sophomores at the time, who wrote an essay explaining why they want to choose nursing as a possible career.

For 14-year-old Travis Henderson of Bonney Lake, who will be a sophomore at Sumner High School this year, the choice was easy.

"I've been interested in nursing for a couple of years," Henderson said, explaining when his grandmother was diagnosed with cancer, Hospice workers came to take care of her, and Henderson was exposed to nursing then. "And that's what sparked my curiosity."

Henderson, who describes himself as outgoing and active, said he was having "a blast" at Nurse Camp, and said he was learning lots of useful things for every part of the medical profession.

"Obviously, this just sparked my interest (in nursing) more," he said.

He especially enjoyed the time spent in the Pacific Lutheran University and Tacoma Community College medical labs, where the students learned the basics of nursing like moving patients into beds, taking blood pressure, drawing blood and inserting catheters and stomach pumping.

"It was very interactive and I got to do a lot of hands on stuff," Henderson said. "It's well worth the time."

Henderson is more determined than ever to become a nurse after attending Nurse Camp, and hopes to work in the emergency or operating room someday, although he admits his preference is the ER.

"I like the action in the ER. I'm an adrenaline freak," Henderson said. "And I just like people."

For fellow camper Ashley Livingston of Bonney Lake, who will be a junior at White River High School this fall, Nurse Camp didn't diminish her desire to enter some form of the medical field, it just confused her as to which one.

"I don't know, there's just so much," Livingston, 15, said. "This is pulling me all over the place."

She applied for the camp because she was interested in anesthesiology after having oral surgery. Livingston heard about the camp from her Life Skills teacher, and thought it would be fun.

"I didn't know much about the medical field, I just knew I wanted to help people," she said.

One of the activities she enjoyed most at camp was inserting a catheter in a mannequin's nose and down to its stomach.

She appreciated the hands-on activities of the camp because it helped her learn even more about what nurses and those in the medical field do.

Nurse Camp was a chance to learn more, which Livingston said is very important to her. She enjoyed learning about each aspect of the medical field, and got her interested in more than just anesthesiology.

"But this changes everything," she said with a laugh.

Jessica Keller can be reached at

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