I first read Andrew Beck’s article on summer camp before my community saw its first COVID-19 infection, and it feels like everything has changed since then. As I revisit this article, it occurs to me that the best parts of summer camp are essentially the opposite of the “sheltering in place” and “social distancing” that many of us are currently practicing. At this point, it is hard to tell what the summer of 2020 will bring: will the woods and waterfronts sit silent, or will they be filled with the joyful noise of children hiking, canoeing, and spending days not even thinking about hand hygiene? Can you imagine?
Reading Andrew Beck’s “Reflections from a pediatrician who went back to summer camp” (10.1542/peds.2019-2378) was a delight, and brought back memories of my experiences as a young camper. Starting as a very homesick 3rd grader in Indiana, I evolved into a camp-loving adolescent in Pennsylvania who finally learned to swim, and even became a lifeguard for the sole purpose of returning to that same camp to work during college.
My recollections of camp have always been from the perspective of the camper, but this piece prompted me to reflect and appreciate the experiences of the adults there as well. As an adult, the camp experience provides a unique opportunity for immersion in an endeavor completely different from our daily lives. This can be a powerful remedy for burnout, and for the “nature deficit disorder” that many of us accumulate with our usual routines.
Studies show that 35-40% of pediatricians report feeling burned out.1 For many of us, the burdens of electronic record keeping, and other administrative tasks, overshadow the sheer joy that caring for children should bring. Dr. Beck’s description of caring for children in the “controlled chaos” of an outdoor, non-medical setting sounds like just enough of a challenge to reinvigorate a weary soul. Plus, any opportunity to “tear around”(safely) in a golf cart to provide care sounds like a great way to spend a summer afternoon.
If you are inspired to follow in Dr. Beck’s footsteps, he even provides some information on how to pursue this possibility. But, you don’t need to go to camp in order to have a similar experience. Providing care in other non-traditional settings, coaching a sports team, or pursuing other rewarding service-oriented opportunities can be just the antidote to office-based lassitude. I am enthralled with his description of an immersive experience that is “like a pot of water simmering at a controlled boil. Energy is palpable and effervescent; it boosts but does not burn.” To me, that sounds like not just a goal for how to run a camp, but also as a goal for how to live a life.
- Starmer AJ, Frintner MP, Freed GL. Work–Life Balance, Burnout, and Satisfaction of Early Career Pediatricians. Pediatrics. 2016, 137 (4) e20153183; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2015-3183