DUNEDIN — After choking on a hot dog, the Bucs fan went into cardiac arrest.
His lungs were blue, his face a pasty white.
Fortunately, Athena Santana, 12, had received training in automated external defibrillation.
She applied the AED pads to the patient's bare chest, pressed the shock button and began chest compressions.
"Push harder," a voice commanded. "Push harder."
Onlookers only giggled.
Welcome to Camp Nurse Jr., where hot summer days are spent learning about cool careers.
"My mom's a nurse and I always wanted to be a nurse," Athena said after the mock session with the CPR mannequin. "I'm learning a lot, and it beats staying at home. Boring!"
Camp Nurse is a free summer program offered by Morton Plant Mease for the first time this year to rising seventh- and eighth-graders. Costs for the weeklong camp were underwritten by a $1,300 grant from the Morton Plant Mease Foundation.
Deborah Covert, manager of team member education for Morton Plant Mease and camp supervisor, said the idea was to "inspire nursing careers."
Thirteen middle schoolers — all girls — registered for the camp, which was open to boys as well.
The students' six-hour days were spent touring operating rooms and labs at Mease Dunedin Hospital and hearing from registered nurses with a variety of backgrounds.
They taught them how to take vital signs, administer first aid and CPR, prepare healthy meals and deal with peer pressure.
"Now I can tell people I babysit for that I know CPR," said Alexandria Pierce, 14, who will start eighth grade at Safety Harbor Middle.
On a recent afternoon, Emily Flees, 12, danced around the room using a mannequin for a partner.
She wants to enter the medical field but is not sure if she wants to do so as a nurse.
"I wouldn't like giving people shots or sticking tubes down their throat," she said. "That's not me."
The girls said one of their favorite parts of the day was creating scrapbooks with pretty papers, magazine photos, fancy lettering and embellishments. One page was decorated with the words "temperature," "blood" and "pulse."
During a first aid session, Lexi Nicholas, 12, pretended to be the victim of a dog bite. As her teammate practiced cleaning and bandaging her pretend wound, Lexi chatted about her career plans.
"My grandmothers are both nurses, and they talk to me all the time about becoming a nurse," said the Tarpon Springs middle school student. "They are in big demand."
She's right, said Jennifer Nooney, associate director of research for the Florida Center for Nursing in Orlando.
"The shortage is critical now," Nooney said. As of June 30, 2007, there were more than 10,400 open registered nurse positions and nearly 3,000 licensed practical nurse positions.
Nooney said that by the time these tweens enter the workforce, they will be a hot commodity.
"Not only will they be in demand, have job security and very high wages, but they will have a lot of job options other than the traditional hospital or office setting," she said.
The options include administrator, faculty member, forensic nurse or travel nurse — a vocation that appeals to Kierstin Suchomelly, 12.
"You get to travel a lot and work all kinds of shifts," she said.
Cheyenne Kauba, 12, who loves babies, said she plans to be a delivery nurse.
The girls listened in rapt attention as Colleen Glass, an RN, taught them how to treat jellyfish stings, recognize heat stroke and preserve a knocked-out permanent tooth.
Glass was amazed.
"There were no iPods. They really want to be here," she said.
Reach Terri Bryce Reeves at firstname.lastname@example.org.