National competition win highlight's ACOM's simulator program

Dr. John Giannini, associate professor of internal medicine at the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine, and ACOM student Jessica McLean look over a screen with a simulated patient on Wednesday.

Dothan’s Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine has received national attention again for success in the annual simulator challenge. This year, a student team won the trophy in the virtual rendition.

Simulator program Director Dr. John Giannini credits his students’ continued success on the college’s emphasis on human-patient simulator training.

“It’s called “experiential learning.” It’s not just hearing a lecture; they’re actually getting to experience being a physician by doing a history, a physical, giving medications. It’s just learning at its finest,” Giannini, an associate professor of internal medicine, said.

Many medical colleges only offer simulator training a handful of times throughout the year; a few still don’t have access to the technology, which Giannini and his students agree helps them to become better clinicians.

“It just helps you consolidate everything you’ve learned,” Jessica McLean, a first-year medical student, said. “It’s the closest thing you can get to treating real patients and it helps you develop that clinical mindset.”

McLean, a Dothan resident who is a member of the winning team, said facilitators presented students with emergent clinical scenarios that require medical knowledge, clinical skills and teamwork to save the simulated patient.

The competition usually uses a physical patient simulator and takes place in Washington, D.C., during the annual American Medical Student Association convention, but was moved online due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Students instead used a virtual simulator interface and Zoom.

One of the cases was a virtual asthmatic patient suffering from anaphylactic shock. Although the challenge was difficult, McLean said she felt well-prepared because of the thoroughness of ACOM’s program, which has allowed her and teammates to practice differential diagnoses and treatments on difficult cases concocted by her professor.

“I can give (the simulator) 20 heart murmurs. I can make him wheeze. I can make him gurgle, so they have real physical findings,” Giannini said. “You can do CPR on him, put a tube down his throat, put him on a ventilator. … They’re difficult cases.”

ACOM’s students get weekly training diagnosing and treating SIMS in a low-stress environment where they are critiqued on ability, but not assigned grades.

“When I research how you gain expertise in anything, it’s deliberate practice and repetition,” Giannini said. “I’m very fortunate to have an administration that recognizes that and has supported it with this, and the students love it.”

McLean’s simulator class continues to meet weekly while ACOM has transitioned to online classes using the same programs used for the virtual competition.

In addition to McLean, students on the winning team, called “Cotard’s Delusionals” include:

» Captain: Kyle Cohen, first-year medical student.

» Alexandra Sappington, first-year medical student.

» Sophie Jaffri, second-year medical student.

» Joe Bernhard, first-year medical student.

» Alyssa Pace-Patterson, second-year medical student.

The team’s win marks the sixth consecutive year since ACOCM started competing in 2015 that the college has ranked among the highest in the tournament. Its last victory was in 2017, when it advanced to the international round of the event and brought home a trophy for the U.S.

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