Practically Real Life

USD nursing student using virtual reality headset to treat a virtual patient


A unique challenge has arisen during the COVID-19 pandemic: How to find a way to give nursing students training in hospitals and clinics in order to complete clinical requirements at a time when such facilities are closed to them?

A 2020 Song-Brown grant of nearly $100,000 from the California Healthcare Workforce Commission has allowed the Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science to purchase equipment and software that does the next best thing.

Clinical Associate Professor Deanna Johnston, PhD, says that virtual reality tools enhance student learning. “This program makes it more real for the students, as if they were standing inside the exam room,” she says. These virtual reality learning tools augment the use of “standardized patients” — people recruited and trained to take on the characteristics of real patients, giving students the opportunity to learn and to be evaluated on learned skills in a simulated clinical environment.

Students like Elizabeth Growdon ‘21 (MEPN) are enthusiastic about using virtual reality scenarios to provide a robust, interactive learning experience.

“This is more interactive,” she says. “It puts you on the spot and feels more like real life than other options that aren’t in the hospital. Training in the hospital is the gold standard, but since we can’t do that, this feels like the next best thing.”

Growdon liked the experience of using the new tool in one of her on-campus labs. “There was a little bit of pressure, which I liked. I also liked that I had my classmates here to give me help when I needed it.”

  Learning in this type of 3D environment allows students to learn and make mistakes, and re-do procedures in various scenarios, something that’s not possible in the real world. The school intends to purchase more of these units — each comprised of goggles, a controller and a laptop station — that will help students in areas that cannot be simulated in labs, such as working with pediatric patients or mass casualty events. — Julene Snyder

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