Alumni Spotlight: Meet Jess Calderone


In the first of a series of Alumni Spotlights, we are sharing the recent research study done by Jess Calderone, a second year medical student at Albany Medical College. Jess (Barn Staff, 2015) decided to come back to camp this summer to complete her service/research requirements. Her study, “Empowerment of Children with Chronic Illness: Lessons of Confidence, Self-Advocacy and Independence at Double H Ranch” analyzes a collection of over 30 camper interviews and discusses the importance of camp! We talked to Jess for a Q&A about her study and how she has stayed involved with the Ranch over the years:

What’s your background at camp?

I worked as Barn Staff in Summer 2015 and have returned to camp to volunteer for family weekends, the Hospital Outreach Program (HOP), and Summer Sessions ever since. I was lucky enough to volunteer for Sessions 1-4 this past summer.

Can you summarize your project/study this summer?

To understand how camp empowers its campers, I did focused interviews with older campers and counselors with multiple years of experience at Double H. I asked about how camp influences one’s perspective of their diagnosis, in what ways it empowers one socially, medically and emotionally, what changes have occurred in oneself because of camp and how can we make this feeling of empowerment last outside of camp. I also interviewed staff, physicians and Dr. Jerry (Camp Psychologist) about camp’s goals for our campers, and what changes they’ve seen in our campers.

What prompted your study this summer? Why did you decide to focus on camp?

I’m now a 2nd year medical student at Albany Medical College. And this past summer, while many of my med school peers were doing research, all I wanted to do was return to camp. When you spend every day of first year studying, learning anatomy, memorizing diagnoses, etc., it’s easy to forget about the human side of medicine. Camp has shown me the importance of looking past an individual’s diagnosis, overturning the limits of disease and a holistic approach to healing.

I stumbled upon the idea of patient empowerment doing literature review and I felt that the concept of empowerment is completely representative of camp. By doing focused interviews with campers and staff, as well as collecting observational data, I wanted to report back to my peers and colleagues at AMC the importance of patient empowerment. I wanted to exemplify that Double H empowers its campers to be confident, independent and advocate for themselves. As counselors, we know that something magical happens at camp and as a future physician, I wanted to share that magic with people who might treat our campers someday.

What were the major results of the study?

(1) Campers do feel independent, confident and able to advocate for themselves because of camp. These are camp values that we should continue to promote in our campers through programming, cabin chat discussions, etc.
(2) The integration of various illnesses into one week of camp is positively welcomed by staff and campers alike. This quality sets Double H apart from other medical summer camps. Campers reported that seeing different diagnosis gave them perspective about their own struggles.
(3) Campers and staff reported that there is no need for specific medical-based discussions or programs to teach better disease management, such as infusion clinics, at Double H. While some campers enjoy learning more about their diagnosis at camp, most of our campers come to camp simply to escape the complexity of their disease.

How have you stayed involved with camp as an Alumni Counselor?

Last January, two Double H volunteers, Mary Tabatneck and Lana Vasiljevic, and I started a service program at AMC for students to volunteer as family pals for camp weekends and with HOP. Kate Walsh said it best: “This is the place to learn about the human side of medicine… to see medical staff who take a second to forget about medicine and stop looking at the child as a diagnosis but as a human.” As counselors, we like to say we are our best selves at camp. And thus, I know involvement with Double H will help create better, more compassionate and empathetic doctors.

study findings from jess calderone