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Germanna’s Virtual Hospital gets an ‘A’ on ‘Nursing Idol’ test

 Germanna Community College’s  “Nursing Idol” competition may have seemed to be merely a fun idea to recognize some of its top nursing students, but it has proven to be a test of the effectiveness of GCC’s Virtual Hospital as a teaching tool.    

 Students, faculty, administrators and event judges said the high-tech Virtual Hospital deserves an “A” after watching the  Second Annual GCC Nursing and Health Technology “Nursing Idol” competition held Friday at college’s Daniel Center in Culpeper.

   Student contestants had to think quickly on their feet, competing under pressure in front of  acrowd of 350 of their peers and 50 faculty members. They cooly responded to questioning from judges about how they’d handle real-life tests at hospitals.

The intellectual competition required students to demonstrate knowledge of diagnostic tests, medications and nursing interventions–including those necessary for patients with psychological problems.

   “I was skeptical at first,” said Dr. Robert Harry, Chairman of the Physician Quality Management Committee at Mary Washington Hospital and a former surgeon there who has been one of the judges both years. Since 2004, he has taught as an adjunct faculty member in GCC’s Virtual Hospital. “But the students have done an outstanding job. I didn’t know what to expect the first year. But it gives them a forum in which they can show off their clinical and analytical skills instead of just regurgitating back what they’ve learned from textbooks.”

The competition, said Dr. Harry, “puts students on the hot seat. This is a spinoff of the Virtual Hospital.”

 ”The faculty sets the bar really high in the Virtual Hospital,” said Krystle Todd of Bumpass, who won the LPN segment of the contest, in part by making scenarios as realistic and challenging as possible. She said the fact that she did well in the event proved to her that she could hold her own in a real hospital environment.

 The Virtual Hospital simulates that  environment to the point that “The faculty even plants mistakes on patient charts,” said Amber Groves of Locust Grove, who won the RN segment of the event. “But they don’t do it to defeat you, they do it to prepare you for situations you might encounter.” 

The Virtual Hospital, GCC President David A. Sam said, provides a “safe, but not comfortable” environment in which students must diagnose and“treat” high-tech human simulator “patients” who may “die” if the students make mistakes. It’s safe in the sense that real patients aren’t in jeopardy as students learn, but it’s stressful for the students, who are on their own and who often become so involved they forget the “patients” aren’t real.  He said the Germanna nursing department faculty does a good job of preparing students for the most difficult real-world situations by bringing in actors to play distressed family members and even baby-snatchers.

“The faculty teaches you as future nursing colleagues and gives you a level of respect that builds confidence,” Groves said.

  Dr. Sam said it was gratifying watching the students’ display of knowledge and their poise under pressure. 

   Next year, Nursing Idol organizer and GCC faculty member C. Bonnie Dixon R.N. said, Dean of Nursing Mary Gilkey would like the event to go statewide. She said Germanna’s nursing department will invite other schools in the Virginia Community College System to participate. Dixon said Gilkey introduced the idea to Germanna, which is the only college in the VCCS that has such an event.

 ”The concept is similar to debate and sports competition,” Dean Gilkey said. “It helps develop new ideas and critical thinking skills. Citizens in Germanna’s communities deserve the best care, and this kind of challenge prepares students to deliver that level of care.”