The adage “so much to do, so little time” aptly describes the daily challenges facing dermatologists and dermatology residents. The time and attention required by direct patient care, writing notes, navigating electronic health records, and engaging in education and research as well as family commitments can drain even the most tireless clinician. In addition, dermatologists are expected to play a critical role in clinic and practice management to successfully curate an online presence and adapt their skills to successfully manage a teledermatology practice. Coupled with the time spent socializing with friends or colleagues and time for personal hobbies or exercise, it’s easy to see how sleep deprivation is common in many of our colleagues.
What’s being left out of these jam-packed schedules? Increasingly, it is the time and expertise dedicated to volunteering in our local communities. Two recent research letters highlighted how a dramatic increase in the number of research projects and publications is not mirrored by a similar increase in volunteer experiences as dermatology residency selection becomes more competitive.1,2
Although the rate of volunteerism among practicing dermatologists has yet to be studied, a brief review suggests a component of unmet dermatology need within our communities. It’s estimated that approximately 5% to 10% of all emergency department visits are for dermatologic concerns.3-5 In many cases, the reason for the visit is nonurgent and instead reflects a lack of other options for care. However, the need for dermatologists extends beyond the emergency department setting. A review of the prevalence of patients presenting for care to a group of regional free clinics found that 8% (N=5553) of all visitors sought care for dermatologic concerns.6 The benefit is not just for those seated on the examination table; research has shown that while many of the underlying factors resulting in physician burnout stem from systemic issues, participating in volunteer opportunities helps combat burnout in ourselves and our colleagues.7-9 Herein, opportunities that exist for dermatologists to reconnect with their communities, advocate for causes distinctive to the specialty, and care for neighbors most in need are highlighted.
Every year, children from across the United States living with chronic and debilitating skin conditions get the opportunity to join fellow campers and spend a week just being kids without the constant focus on being a patient. Camp Wonder’s founder and director, Francesca Tenconi, describes the camp as a place where kids “can form a community and can feel free to be themselves, without judgment, without stares. They get the chance to forget about their skin disease and be themselves” (oral communication, June 18, 2021). Tenconi and the camp’s cofounders and medical directors, Drs. Jenny Kim and Stefani Takahashi, envisioned the camp as a place for all campers regardless of their skin condition to feel safe and welcome. This overall mission guides camp leadership and staff every year over the course of the camp week where campers participate in a mix of traditional and nontraditional summer activities that are safe and accessible for all, from spending time in the pool to arts and crafts and a ropes course.
Camp Wonder is in its 21st year of hosting children and adolescents from across North America at its camp in Livermore, California. This year, Tenconi expects about 100 campers during the last week in July. Camp Wonder relies on medical staff volunteers to make the camp setting safe, inclusive, and fun. “Our dermatology residents and dermatology volunteers are a huge part of why we’re able to have camp,” said Tenconi. “A lot of our kids require very specific medical care throughout the week. We are able to provide this camp experience for them because we have this medical support system available, this specialized dermatology knowledge.” She also noted the benefit to the volunteers themselves, saying,“The feedback we get a lot from residents and dermatologists is that camp gave them a chance to understand the true-life impact of some of the skin diseases these kids and families are living with. Kids will open up to them and tell them how their disease has impacted them personally” (oral communication, June 18, 2021).
Volunteer medical providers help manage the medical needs of the campers beginning at check-in and work shifts in the infirmary as well as help with dispensing and administering medications, changing dressings, and applying ointments or other topical medications. When not assisting with medical care, medical staff can get to know the campers; help out with arts and crafts, games, sports, and other camp activities; and put on skits and plays for campers at nightly camp hangouts (Figure 1).
How to Get Involved
Visit the website (https://www.csdf.org/camp-wonder) for information on becoming a medical volunteer for 2022. Donations to help keep the camp running also are greatly appreciated, as attendance, including travel costs, is free for families through the Children’s Skin Disease Foundation. Finally, dermatologists can help by keeping their young patients with skin disease in mind as future campers. The camp welcomes kids from across the United States and Canada and invites questions from dermatologists and families on how to become a camper and what the experience is like.