Training health science students with VR

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Virtual reality can be used to play games, visit a place you’ve never been to before, or even conduct a business meeting.


Now, nursing and other health science students at the University of Manitoba are making the same leap into VR.


“It uses all the same controls as they use in gaming,” said Dr. Lawrence Gillman, the director of clinical learning and simulation at the Max Rady College of Medicine.


“So anyone who’s been in a gaming environment before picks it up super easy.”


Except here, they aren’t slaying dragons, they’re learning how to save lives without putting real patients at risk.


“They can try things, they can explore some of their options or treatment options that we normally wouldn’t let them do because, of course, we don’t want to harm patients,” said Professor Nicole Harder from the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences.


“So they can do that in a virtual environment and really get that concept of what it means to be thinking like a nurse.”


Other health professionals can also benefit from this training. Eric Northwood is an advanced practice respiratory therapist. He said VR training will give him a huge advantage.


“I do inter-facility transfers. So I’m in the back of an ambulance picking patients up from hospital to hospital,” said Northwood. “So to be able to simulate a cramped environment like that, it’s actually kind of difficult in a simulation area, but with a set of goggles on, you can kind of be anywhere.”


The technology is still in its infancy and a bit clunky. Northwood said during his demo, you could leave a syringe hanging mid-air and it wouldn’t fall to the ground.


Still, Gillman believes VR will be a critical part of training going forward. “To be able to do this so much easier without a mannequin where it’s easily accessible, I truly think this is the future of simulation.”


The university has been using this VR technology in the College of Nursing since 2022, but now it’s going to be expanding it to the Faculty of Health Sciences.


In the future, officials think it may be possible for students to train with the technology using their own headsets at home. For now, it’s being done in university labs where they supply the equipment. 

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