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The Doctor is in: Time for Camp Physicals

Spring is in the air, which means summer will be here before you know it! As you soak in the warmer air and blooming flowers, take time to plan for summer. If your child wants to go to summer camp, now is the time to schedule their physical.

As a board-certified pediatrician, I regularly conduct physicals for my patients, especially as summertime draws near. I always encourage families to begin planning as soon as possible. Appointments for physicals can fill up fast, and we would never want your child to miss out on the fun of summer camp because they didn’t get their physical in time.

Not sure where to start? Here are answers to common questions about your child’s camp physical.

What is a camp physical?

Also called pre-participation physicals, camp physical examinations are an essential part of registering children for camps. It’s a time to touch base with your child’s pediatrician and review your child’s medical history, medications, vaccinations, allergies, general fitness and more. The pediatrician also uses this time to discuss what activities will happen at camp and if your child needs any modifications or accommodations given their current health.

Why are camp physicals important?

Swimming, hiking, and hours spent in the sun can make camp activities quite strenuous, and your pediatricians want to make sure your child is in good health.

The camp staff doesn’t know your child’s medical history, so they need paperwork from a pediatrician to understand what supports your child may need during camp. If your child has a preexisting condition such as asthma, diabetes, seizures or eyesight troubles, your pediatrician will document this in the paperwork. That way, if your child comes to the camp office with symptoms, the staff can attend to your child’s specific health care needs and administer medication if necessary.

Camp physicals also allow pediatricians to address potential health concerns proactively. Certain camps may have campers participating in strenuous activities, which may worsen an existing health condition, such as asthma or an ankle injury. Other camps may serve certain foods that your child is allergic to. A camp physical gives families an opportunity to discuss these potential risks and what to do if your child encounters them.

Your pediatrician may also recommend tips to prevent injuries if your child is participating in a sports camp.

Who needs a camp physical?

Any child who is going to camp will need a physical. Most camps ask pediatricians to fill out paperwork to clear a child for participation. Your child won’t be able to participate in camp if they don’t have the completed paperwork.

When should a child get a camp physical? Is there such thing as too soon or too late?

Once your family has decided on a summer camp, consider making an appointment for a physical. Once a child’s physical is completed, it’s good for a full year. Families can avoid the summertime rush by scheduling physicals after the new year, for example. I’ve had parents and guardians schedule camp physicals in February for camps in June!

It may take seven to 10 days to process the paperwork after your child’s physical is completed, so I don’t recommend procrastinating.

Note: If your child suffers an injury or illness between the time that they get their physical and the start of camp, call your pediatrician. Your child may need to be reevaluated.

What does the doctor look for during the physical?

A pediatrician will likely check your child’s:

  • Blood pressure, oxygen saturation, pulse and respiration
  • Ears, nose, throat, heart, lungs and abdomen
  • Strength and flexibility of major joints
  • Height and weight
  • History of allergies
  • Family medical history
  • Medications, including prescription medications
  • Vaccination history

Some camps have specific requirements for a camp physical, so a pediatrician may conduct additional tests. In rare cases, high-adventure camps (rock-climbing, white-water rafting, strenuous hiking) have specific body mass index (BMI) requirements. A pediatrician will determine if your child’s BMI falls within the camp’s listed range.

What should parents do to prepare for the physical?

Families should be prepared to discuss their child’s past injuries, current treatments, new symptoms, allergies, vaccinations or medications with the pediatrician during the visit. You should gather your child’s medical documents and the camp paperwork and bring them to the office the day of the visit. In many cases, forms can also be submitted to doctors online.

What happens if the pediatrician finds medical issues? Can my child still go to camp?

If a pediatrician identifies any medical issues, that doesn’t mean your child can’t go to camp or participate in sports. As pediatricians, we will do everything we can to make sure your child can still have fun at camp. Depending on what the pediatrician finds, your child may just need a new medication, such as an inhaler for asthma, or a referral to a specialist for additional clearance. Your pediatrician will document the new health condition in the camp paperwork so the staff can make the necessary accommodations.

After discovering a new medical issue, some families decide to choose a different camp for their child.

Does my child need a camp physical if they just had a well-child visit? Or vice versa: Can the camp physical replace my child’s well visit?

In many cases, your well-child visit can serve as a camp physical if it was completed within one year of the camp date. For example, if your child had a well-child visit in March, they likely won’t need a physical to attend camp in June. But if their last well-child visit was in August of last year, they will need a camp physical to attend camp in July of this year.

I recommend calling your pediatrician’s office to confirm whether your child needs a camp physical. The pediatrician may want to see your child again if they recently suffered a new injury, had surgery, developed an allergy or was prescribed a new medication. It’s always better to be on the safe side.

How do I schedule a camp physical?

Call your pediatrician’s office to schedule an appointment or use the patient portal.

Get a head start on summer by scheduling a camp physical. Wishing you a happy and healthy summer!

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