Interviewing Potential Camp Nurses: Questions That Help Identify Successful Candidates

Linda Ebner Erceg, R.N., M.S., P.H.N.

As seasoned camp professionals can attest, some nurses are cut out for camp nursing and some definitely are not, but most candidates for the job fall someplace between the two extremes. The interview process can be used to discover a candidate's placement on the continuum. This article discusses interview strategies that disclose strong candidates, weed out those who aren't a good fit, and identify the "diamonds in the rough" — those who, with a bit of coaching, would do fine.

Getting Started

When an interested nurse enquires about the camp nurse position, an initial conversation often sorts the potential applicant from those who are not appropriate. Likely candidates are typically directed to complete an application but — based on comments from nurses — aren't given a copy of the job description. Provide it. Having the written job description helps potential candidates understand what will be asked of them. Also provide the camp's Web site and/or promotional materials so the individual can vicariously visit camp and get an idea of what camp might be like. Then schedule the interview.

There are three things one should have in hand prior to interviewing a camp nurse candidate: the person's application, their references, and the position's written job description. With regard to these elements, note the following:

  • The candidate's credentials and level of education. In general, nurses with a baccalaureate in nursing preparation bring community health and basic management skills to the position. This can be a real asset at camp! Also note additional credentials — like having a first aid certificate in addition to CPR — that may be helpful.
  • The person's previous work settings: Does the candidate have any nursing experience in non-hospital/clinic settings?
  • Note the attention given to completing the application. Is it legible? Is it prepared using appropriate grammar and spelling? This provides an indication of the candidate's attention to detail, ability to follow directions, and skill in written communication — all necessities to camp nursing practice.
  • Does the individual have experience as a camper, counselor, or being a nurse at another camp?
  • Review the references. If coming from another nurse (a peer), does it seem as though the referent would enjoy working with the candidate? If coming from a supervisor, are there hints as to what supports the candidate might need to be successful? If from a friend, what adjectives are used to describe the candidate? Are those adjectives good matches to what you'd like in your camp nurse? References provide insight into the candidate's relationships with others.
  • Note any "strings" that may be attached to the candidate's ability to work for you: Is the nurse expecting camp for his/her own children? Can the person be there for orientation? Does the person hold a nursing license from the state in which the camp is located?

Questions to Ask During the Interview

Whether interviewing via phone or in person, begin by introducing yourself in terms of your role in the camp's hiring process. Briefly describe the scope of questions you'll ask and set a time limit for the conversation. Talk about the outcome of the interview; it typically results in a mutual agreement to move forward with negotiating an agreement or a mutual agreement that the job isn't the best fit for either party.

Since people tend to be most comfortable with their own information, start with questions that get them to talk about themselves, their work history, and their life experiences. Listen to the information provided: Does it compliment what you know is needed at camp? As the interview progresses, ask more probing questions — ones that disclose the individual's strengths as well as their challenged areas. This provides a clue as to what you can expect from them as well as what you may have to provide via job coaching.

Here are some suggested questions along with a descriptor of the information one should listen for. Feel free to adjust the question so it reflects the camp's situation.

Regarding the Person's Qualifications and Interest in Children

  • Tell me why you are interested in working for our camp.
    Listen for what motivated them to seek employment as a camp nurse. Is this fulfilling a personal dream/desire/curiosity, or is it their way to secure camp for their own children? Does the candidate link their response to something about your camp? Does the candidate talk about being "burnt out" with hospital nursing and in need of "something different"? If so, flag this response. It definitely needs discussion since camp is not the recovery zone for burntout nurses.
  • What skills do you have that make you suited to our camp nurse position?
    Listen for a match between what skills the person describes and what skills you know are needed. Do they describe people skills as well as nursing skills? The answer may also tell you if the candidate actually read the job description and reviewed the materials you provided.
  • You will have the opportunity to interact closely with our campers. Why are you an appropriate person for this?
    Listen for a response that indicates appropriate comfort with and ability to relate to youth in both clinical and non-clinical environments. Consider adding a discussion about relating to staff if appropriate to your situation.

Assessing Ability to Work Effectively at Camp

  •  As you know, this is a camp nursing position. Describe what you think a camp nurse does during the day.
    Listen for a match between the applicant's expectations and what you know to be the realities of the job. Has this person talked with other camp nurses or read something about the work? What does he/she think the job will be like? If what they describe is off base from what you know will happen, take time to talk about the difference.
  • What do you anticipate will be the most difficult thing for you to adjust to at camp?
    Has the applicant thought about what it's like to actually be at camp — being on call at all times, caring for people who are away from their usual support systems, having limited access to other healthcare professionals (or being the only one), living without ready access to TV, e-mail, and friends? Is the candidate's response realistic and insightful of their own needs? Is it something you can work with or does it indicate something that might be stressful as summer wears on?
  • You provided references for us. If I asked [name the referent] for words that describe you, what would I hear? What if I asked your friends for some adjectives that describe you; what would they tell me? Finally, what words would your past patients use to describe you?
    Listen for different things from these various groups. Look for a match between what the applicant says and what you know was provided by references. When the candidate provides the list from friends, listen for indicators of "fit" with your staff. When they provide patient comments, did the words reflect a caring attitude and a focus on that other person (not him/herself)?
  • Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your supervisor or a co-worker. How did you handle that?
    Listen for conflict-resolution skills. Are you hearing someone who comes from a "win-lose" perspective or with a "win-win" attitude? Probe the applicant's understanding of "collaborate." Consider asking them what they'd do if you disagreed with their opinion of an injury or illness.
  • Tell me how you'd handle the following situations. Use your knowledge not only about nursing but also what you currently know about camp:
    • A nine-year-old is lonesome for home; he cries easily, doesn't want to interact with others, and talks about wanting to go home. The camper's counselor asks for your help. How would you respond?
      Does the response indicate the applicant's ability to work with the counselor to address the concern or does the applicant assume responsibility for the child? Does the applicant use the word "homesick" when responding? Are the interventions appropriate to the camper's developmental stage?
    • Nancy Camper broke her lower arm in a fall. The closed fracture has been splinted and you're calling the parent from the emergency room. Role-play that call with me.
      Assess ability to minimize alarm yet communicate information. What impression does this nurse convey in his/her voice? If you were the parent, would this response communicate assurance or increase anxiety?
    • A camper/counselor from [name a country from which you get people] tells you that they have the flu. Describe your care for this person.
      Does the candidate describe care that assures you of their competence? Might the applicant identify potential for a communicable disease concern? Is the applicant sensitive to culturebased health needs? Does the applicant think to tell others — like the person's supervisor — about the illness?
    • You are sitting in the health center and someone dashes in the door shouting: "Come quick! The assistant cook just cut himself bad on the meat slicer and then fainted on the floor. There's blood everywhere!" Tell me what you'd do.
      Listen for the nurse's comfort with handling first aid skills. Are skills such as bleeding control and shock addressed? Does the candidate identify concern for bloodborne pathogens? Is the nurse so focused on the identified client that he/she neglects to determine if others are involved?
  • Given everything we've discussed during this interview, what would you like me to know about helping you be successful as our camp nurse?
    The person's response to this question, as well as those already asked, often provides an indication of the amount of job coaching they'll need to be effective. Some nurses simply need one-on-one time with the camp director during orientation to be effective. Others may benefit from pre-arrival courses such as first aid or a "basics of camp nursing" workshop or book. Most new camp nurses will need day-to-day contact with the director, contact that coaches their role development over time.
  • If you are selected for the position, how committed are you to honoring the agreement you'll sign?
    Every so often a nurse backs out of a camp nursing position — often at a time when finding a replacement is extremely difficult. Discuss this with the candidate. Look for an assurance that, if offered the position, you can rely on them.

Discuss Expectations if Nurse's Children Will Be Campers

The parent-camper dyad can effectively work at camp, but both parent and child have to buy into the fact that one of them is going to be a camper (a client) while the other is on staff (an employee). Their camp experiences will be different. So straightforwardly discuss this with parent applicants. Express your concerns and listen to the nurse-parent's response. You need a nurse who will focus on the camp nurse job, not their child. Consider asking specific questions such as:

  • What would you do if your child said he or she would rather sit with you at meals than with the cabin group?
  • Counselors can be concerned when a camper's parent is also on staff. How would you minimize this concern?
  • Have you and your child talked about what it'll be like to be at camp together? Can you allow your child to have a camper experience while you have a staff experience?
  • Other children will not have their parents at camp. Knowing this, how does it impact the way you might interact with your child when others are around?
  • What if your child needs to go home for some reason? How does that impact your ability to be our camp nurse?

Closing the Interview

After asking your questions, inquire about the applicant's questions of you. These often indicate the candidate's real interest in the job and may address pragmatic points such as start date and salary if offered the position. Sometimes the decision to hire is readily apparent and one can move directly into negotiating an agreement. If that's the case, do not push for an answer from the applicant right away. Give them a couple days to think things over. The goal is to attract a nurse who wants the position for all the right reasons. Talk about that, and then set a date and time for your call-back.

When a nurse agrees to your offered position, revisit their commitment to the job. Remind them of the discussion that took place during the interview and impress upon them how you'll now rely on that commitment. Granted, this is no assurance that all will work as planned, but it increases the likelihood. If coupled with strategies that increase the nurse's affiliation to camp even before the season begins, the nurse begins to feel an even stronger commitment to camp. That's excellent!

Linda Ebner Erceg, R.N., M.S., P.H.N., is the associate director of Health & Risk Management for Concordia Language Villages and executive director of the Association of Camp Nurses in Bemidji, Minnesota.

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