The History and Evolution of Camp Nursing

The role of the camp nurse has a rich history, evolving significantly over the decades. From its humble beginnings to becoming an integral part of the camp experience, camp nursing has adapted to meet the changing needs of campers and the healthcare landscape. This blog explores the fascinating history and evolution of camp nursing, highlighting its enduring importance and the advancements that have shaped it.

The Early Days: Birth of Camp Nursing

The concept of summer camps dates back to the late 19th century, with the first organized camps appearing in the United States. These early camps were primarily established to provide children with outdoor experiences, away from the industrialized cities. Health and safety were always a concern, but formal medical staff were not typically part of the camp structure.

In the early 20th century, as the popularity of summer camps grew, so did the recognition of the need for dedicated healthcare professionals on site. The introduction of camp nurses marked a significant milestone in ensuring the well-being of campers. These early camp nurses were often local nurses or school nurses who took on the role temporarily, equipped with basic medical supplies to handle minor injuries and illnesses.

The Mid-20th Century: Formalization and Professionalization

The mid-20th century saw the formalization and professionalization of camp nursing. With the rise of organized camping associations and the establishment of camp standards, the role of the camp nurse became more defined. The American Camp Association (ACA), founded in 1910, played a crucial role in setting guidelines and standards for camp health services.

During this period, camp nurses began to receive more specialized training tailored to the unique environment of summer camps. The focus expanded from just treating injuries and illnesses to include preventive care, health education, and mental health support. The development of camp health centers, equipped with better medical facilities, further enhanced the ability of camp nurses to provide comprehensive care.

The Late 20th Century: Expanded Roles and Responsibilities

By the latter half of the 20th century, the role of camp nurses had expanded significantly. They were no longer just first responders to medical emergencies but also educators, counselors, and advocates for overall camper wellness. The increasing awareness of mental health issues, allergies, and chronic conditions required camp nurses to be well-versed in a wide range of healthcare topics.

Advancements in medical technology and communication also transformed camp nursing. Portable medical devices, improved first aid supplies, and better communication tools allowed camp nurses to manage more complex health issues. The ability to consult with healthcare professionals remotely and access digital medical records further enhanced the quality of care provided at camps.

The 21st Century: Embracing Diversity and Inclusion

In the 21st century, the role of camp nursing continues to evolve, embracing diversity and inclusion. Camps are now more inclusive of children with various medical conditions and disabilities, requiring camp nurses to have specialized knowledge and skills. The focus on creating safe and inclusive environments for all campers has led to more comprehensive training programs for camp nurses.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the critical role of camp nurses in managing public health crises. Camp nurses were at the forefront of implementing health protocols, conducting screenings, and providing education on hygiene and disease prevention. This period underscored the importance of having well-trained medical professionals in camp settings to ensure the health and safety of all participants.

Looking Ahead: The Future of Camp Nursing

The future of camp nursing looks promising, with ongoing advancements in healthcare and technology. The integration of telehealth services, improved medical training, and a greater emphasis on mental health and wellness are likely to shape the next era of camp nursing. As camps continue to evolve, so too will the role of the camp nurse, adapting to meet the needs of new generations of campers.


The history and evolution of camp nursing reflect the changing landscape of healthcare and the enduring commitment to camper safety and well-being. From the early days of basic first aid to the comprehensive and multifaceted role of today’s camp nurse, this profession has grown in both scope and significance. As we look to the future, the continued dedication and adaptability of camp nurses will ensure that summer camps remain a safe and enriching experience for all.