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Monarch General Hospital is open for business. Housed in a beautiful four-story building, Monarch General is a 300-bed acute-care hospital that serves a community of over 1.5 million people.

With a staff that includes more than 65 students, the hospital boasts an emergency room, gero-psychiatric wing, birthing center, pediatric unit, cardiac care unit and renal and dialysis services.

But don't look for this structure anywhere on Old Dominion's Norfolk campus; Monarch General exists in cyberspace.

"The virtual hospital makes our nursing courses a little bit more real," said Phyllis Barham, a lecturer in the School of Nursing.

Monarch General began about three years ago as a paper and pencil exercise in nursing instructor Sherrill Marshall's senior leadership class. Marshall was looking for a way to "engage the students in the process and give them an idea of the work we do in nursing." So she created a fictional hospital in which each of her students would hold a position. As part of the class, they would use cases from the hospital to apply the leadership skills they were learning.

The idea proved so useful to the students' learning, Barham began referencing the hospital and its patients in her sophomore laboratory classes. Last fall, the pair took the idea one step further and created the cyber Monarch General, an interactive Web site that is quickly expanding throughout the nursing program.

On the site, which is accessible only to students in the nursing program, the entire hospital is laid out -- from its floor plan and employee directory, to its mission statement and unit descriptions.

Students who click on the link for the hospital's ambulatory clinic can see a picture of the student "nurse manager" and read her short unit description and greeting. Students also meet their patients and can download their medical charts.

"In the spring semester, each student in the nursing leadership class draws a position in the hospital and functions in that position for the entire semester," Marshall explained.

The nursing students write the mission statement and goals of the hospital and each unit as part of their leadership course or critical thinking laboratory. Throughout the semester, they address problems that arise, such as how to deal with an inadequate staff member; how to address shortages; or the best way to handle patient issues.

"The Web site offers students a context to work from and a realistic application of problem-solving, leadership skills building and critical thinking," Barham noted. "When we ask them questions about patients and hospital issues, it's abstract. But with Monarch General, we try to make it real."

Currently, the site features photos of all the student personnel as well as photos of "hospital patients" -- family and friends of nursing students and faculty who were willing to take part in the program. Plans are under way to replace the static photos with video footage.

According to the pair, the Web site is a work in progress and there are plans to expand it to additional courses in the nursing curriculum.

This article was posted on: February 28, 2000

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