The next generation of nursing

At UW Nurse Camp, Karissa Sanchez found the motivation to pursue her dream of going to college and serving her Eastern Washington community. Now a UW graduate, she’s inspiring underrepresented high school students to do the same.

Be a World of Good

On a hot July day at the University of Washington, a group of 16- and 17-year-olds excitedly take turns performing CPR on high-tech mannequins. The day before, they learned how to take a patient’s blood pressure. And the next day, they’ll enter a simulation lab to help deliver a virtual “baby.” For one week, they have the opportunity to learn about the world of nursing — a profession they hope to one day join.

uw nurse camp students

Karissa Sanchez (second from right) with fellow campers in 2010; two joined her as UW nursing students.

Each summer, thanks to generous gifts that support the program, about two dozen high school sophomores and juniors — predominantly from low-income or underrepresented backgrounds — attend the School of Nursing’s Nurse Camp free of charge. More than a hands-on exploration of nursing careers, the program changes students’ lives.

“Many of these campers haven’t heard, ‘You have what it takes to get into school,’” explains Karissa Sanchez, a former participant. While underrepresented minority groups make up more than one-third of the U.S. population, less than 20 percent of nurses hail from minority backgrounds — a statistic the camp is working to change. “The UW has really made a conscious effort to make sure that our nurses look more like our patients,” says Sanchez, who knows firsthand the transformative effect of UW Nurse Camp.

Growing up in Wenatchee, Sanchez knew she wanted to attend college, despite the barriers standing in her way. Her parents had not been able to pursue higher education, and while they worked hard to provide better opportunities for Sanchez and her siblings, they couldn’t help navigate the college admissions process.


Interest in UW Nurse Camp — now gearing up for its eighth year—is growing at an incredible rate. In 2015, 148 high school students applied for just 24 spots. Much of the program’s success is thanks to the undaunted work of volunteers and the generous support of donors. To ensure that the camp is an option for students from all backgrounds, the program charges no fees to attend. Thanks to the generosity of many, Nurse Camp can open the doors to college for many more students like Sanchez, continuing to create a more inclusive nursing workforce.

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Then a high school counselor encouraged Sanchez to apply to UW Nurse Camp. The suggestion changed the course of her life.

I didn’t see college being a possibility until I went to Nurse Camp.

— Karissa Sanchez

At camp, Sanchez quickly adapted to long days shadowing nurses at UW Medical Center and learning the ins and outs of nursing school. By the end of the week, Sanchez could see herself in the field. And she found something she didn’t expect: “One of the main things Nurse Camp did for me was give me confidence,” she says. “The camp mentors (nursing students, faculty, staff and alumni) made me believe in myself and that I was good enough. I didn’t see college being a possibility until I went to Nurse Camp.”

Sanchez got into the University of Washington, and then applied to nursing school. “Something that really attracted me to the UW School of Nursing was its commitment to diversity,” she says. “Nurse Camp donors didn’t only invest in a student, they invested in my future and the future of nursing.”

Throughout her time at the UW, Sanchez — now a senior in the nursing program — has received support from dedicated mentors and staff, and is paying it forward as Nurse Camp co-lead. “To see her go from camper to nursing student to Nurse Camp lead is incredible,” says Carolyn Chow, director of admissions and multicultural student affairs at the School of Nursing, and one of the camp’s founders. “It’s exactly what the camp is all about — empowering high school students to aggressively pursue their dreams.”

Along the way, Sanchez picked up a degree in public health in addition to her nursing studies, and she plans to pursue her doctor of nursing practice at the UW. Eventually, she hopes to fuse the two fields and provide community health care in her hometown. “Her future is limitless,” Chow says proudly. “We will continue to be in a better world because of Karissa.”

Sanchez, the first in her family to attend a four-year college, credits UW Nurse Camp for leading her to where she is today, as well as creating a broader impact. “My story is tangible,” says Sanchez. “I know that by something as simple as me going to Nurse Camp, I’ve changed the trajectory of my family.”

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