The College of Nursing’s VR setup features 10 computers and four Oculus VR headsets. Students use the computers to go through a training module to learn how to speak with empathy and practice phrases they can say to the patient’s family members, Steinberg says. Then they take turns putting on the headsets to go through the VR scenarios, which last about 15 minutes.
The VR simulations provide a safe environment to practice communicating with patients’ families, says Elena Prendergast, an assistant professor at the College of Nursing. Faculty watch how students handle the situations, then talk them through the experience.
“Giving bad news is difficult. It doesn’t matter how much training you have,” Prendergast says. “The difference is, we can help students be more prepared and more comfortable to have those conversations.”
VR Enables Remote Learning at Purdue University Global
When the pandemic struck, Purdue University Global’s online nursing program needed an alternative to an onsite skills lab.
Partnering with a third-party educational VR vendor, the university developed immersive simulations using 3D animation in VR to help students learn six essential skills, says Abbey Elliott, assistant dean of immersive learning and innovation for Purdue University Global’s school of nursing. Those skills include chest tube insertion and endotracheal intubation.
The university launched the VR experience during the fall 2020 semester. Students purchased Oculus VR headsets, downloaded the app, and in guided mode, the VR application taught them step by step how to perform the procedures, Elliott says.
In expert mode, they performed the procedures without any hand-holding. Then, in exam mode, they had to do each procedure correctly before starting their clinical practice experiences.
The VR technology drew rave reviews from students. “We saw such a great increase in student confidence,” Elliott says. “The student response was overwhelmingly positive because it gave them flexibility.”
The VR app also provided analytics. If students struggle with a procedure, faculty members are notified on a web-based dashboard. “Faculty can talk to students about how they can do better, and if needed, they can share their screen to show them something,” she says.
Today, students pursuing an associate degree can learn nearly 70 skills, including hand hygiene and inserting an IV. They can also run AI-powered VR simulations in which they give patient exams and assess patients’ health. The program also created a community assessment in VR, where students can interview avatars in a neighborhood and learn what healthcare services they need.
“Students are much better at skills because they’ve practiced 1,000 times at home,” Elliott says.
Virtual Reality Brings Cadavers to the Medical Students
New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine uses VR and AR to give students new ways to visualize and learn about the human body.
While the medical school still has human cadavers for students to inspect, they no longer dissect cadavers as part of the curriculum; they use VR and AR instead, says Greg Dorsainville, manager of immersive computing at the medical school’s Institute for Innovations in Medical Education.
“In the past, students were in the anatomy lab at all hours of the night examining real cadavers,” he says. “Now, if they are learning about the physiology of the heart, for example, they still go to the lab and see examples of the heart. But we want them to have anytime, anywhere access. So, now they can go home and see digitized versions of the heart, animations and other resources.”