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Virtual reality nursing

Speed read
  • IUPUC nursing lab adds virtual reality to replicate real-life situations
  • Students rehearse clinical scenarios in simulated environment
  • Instructors create custom scenarios too expensive to rehearse otherwise

When a newly-graduated nurse encounters a patient situation for the first time outside the classroom, he may not remember everything his textbook told him to do. But if he’s had the opportunity to walk through the situation step-by-step in a safe environment, he will be more comfortable—and so will his patient.

Virtual nursing. At the IUPUC Simulation Center, nursing students use virtual reality to practice clinical scenarios. Courtesy UITS at Indiana University.

At the IUPUC Simulation Center in Columbus, Indiana, nursing students already receive advanced training using high-fidelity mannequins as well as actors and recorded scenarios in order to practice their skills in a mock hospital setting. Now, with the addition of virtual reality (VR) technology, the lab has become a pioneer in the nation.

VR scenarios provide invaluable experience in a safe learning space, according to Carrie Shaver, director of the Regional Healthcare Pipeline linking education to employment in the healthcare industry.

“Students have an opportunity to experience something for the first time in the safety of our simulated environment versus starting with a real patient in a real clinical setting,” Shaver said.

In 2018, the nationally accredited lab introduced virtual reality technology, making it one of only four institutions in the nation, and the only nursing school, to do so.

<strong>Replicating real life.</strong> With VR goggles, students can see the room, see the patient, even pick up VR tools and experience performing the procedure. Courtesy Emily Sterneman.Bill Fields, director of IT Technical Services at IUPUC, identified the technology as not only an innovative direction, but an affordable, efficient replacement for the expensive and unwieldy mannequins. “With the virtual reality goggles, students can see the room, see the patient, even pick up VR tools and experience actually performing the procedure,” he explained.

That ability to replicate real-life situations and subjects is what convinced Shaver and Beth Sharer, nursing division head, to sign on with the technology. They worked with software developers at SimX to create scenarios to use in current courses to provide experience in both clinical and personal situations.

For Shannon Love, clinical assistant professor and director of the simulation center, the technology’s adaptability is imperative. “We’re able to create scenarios that our students might commonly see in a clinical environment, or may never see, and we want to give them that exposure,” Love said.

One scenario that was developed for the lab is both timely and common to the region—neonatal abstinence syndrome, which involves an infant born to a mother addicted to drugs.

Because it would be cost-prohibitive to purchase a mannequin just for this type of simulation, the VR technology is used to create the baby and its symptoms. As students work through the scenario, an instructor chooses patient responses from a programmed list.

“The purpose of this scenario is less about the baby and more about how the student communicates with the mother, how they field questions like, ‘Why did this happen to me,’ or ‘Do you think I’m a bad person?’” Love said.

<strong>VR prepares</strong> students for real-life situations because they talk to not only the patient but also family members in custom scenarios. Courtesy Emily Sterneman.Students appreciate the “reality” aspect of the virtual reality technology. “It prepares us for real-life situations because we talk to not only the patient, but also another person in the room,” said second year nursing student Braelyn Evans.

Another second-year student, Mackenzie Holtz, agreed. “Normally we’re dealing with mannequins who don’t respond, so I like that we’re communicating with a patient and family members, because that’s real life.”

The IUPUC staff is enthusiastic about using VR with other disciplines that currently work with the simulation center, including business management and mental health counseling. Scenarios could be created to replicate a therapy patient having a psychotic break, or a disgruntled employee with a gun, and students would be able to practice how to react in those situations.

Love finds significant value in the multiple use-cases for the VR technology. “While actual clinical exposure is fantastic, we can’t create a situation there,” she said. “This technology allows us the flexibility to place it in the curriculum and cater to the needs of our students.”

As a former hospital administrator, Sharer is a self-described “huge advocate” of VR technology. “With a live person, it’s difficult to get experience in all the things you need to practice,” she explained. “You do a lot of training, but if you’re not in the right place at the right time (in a clinic), you might not learn something. This technology brings the right time to the students.”

Read more: Virtual reality can save your life


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