Virtual Reality and Health Care

Training the Health Workers of Tomorrow

Melissa Hardcastle walks into the examination room, where her patient is seated. Melissa's patient, Jerry, came to the hospital complaining of being drowsy and dizzy. Melissa checks his vital signs to diagnose his condition. Suddenly, Jerry's blood pressure drops. His airways narrow, blocking his breathing. His pulse races, and a rash appears on his skin. Melissa confirms that Jerry is going into shock from anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal allergic reaction, and needs an injection of epinephrine right away to save his life.

In less than a minute, Jerry's vital signs return to normal and as her patient stabilizes, Melissa—a second-year Practical Nurse program student— slides off her virtual reality (VR) headset and turns to her instructor, Sarah Brown, for an evaluation.

Jerry is what is known as a "HoloPatient," an immersive 3D learning application that helps students like Melissa learn how to assess, diagnose and treat true-to-life holographic patients with real-life conditions in a virtual classroom. Welcome to the future of learning at New Brunswick Community College's School of Health and Wellness.

Student Medavie Nursing Lab
Courtney Henderson, Practical Nurse 2 Student

A modern take on education

VR technology is transforming education, enabling students to learn by doing and readying them for careers across a broad spectrum of fields.

Sarah, a mother of three, immediately recognized the technology's "huge potential" and integrated it into her lab course. " I hope this technology will enhance my students learning as it provides them with the power of knowledge by providing them with more opportunities for their education.”

Jerry is one of 17 HoloPatient case studies Sarah can choose from (with more in development) to guide hands-on lessons in caregiving "to guide hands on lessons in assessing conditions ranging from anaphylaxis reactions to seizure activity. "Students are asked to download the HoloLens app to their smart phones, and this allows them to interact with the scenario (a hologram image the instructor chooses)."

“The entire class has the same augmented reality as the person wearing the HoloLens headset. This is very beneficial for those students who are learning remotely,” says Sarah.

Melissa adds that this immersive, step-by-step learning experience allows students like her "extra time to hone their assessment skills" in the controlled environment of the classroom and prepare them for real-world training in a clinical setting. Melissa also likes that "it levels the playing field where we're all learning from the same content."

Student 2
Guy Richard, Practical Nurse 2 Student

The human anatomy as a hologram

In addition to exploring 3D patient simulation holograms like Jerry, students can interact with full-size human anatomy holograms or what Sarah describes as a virtual version of the "complete human anatomy atlas."

This allows students to "dissect the cadaver without a human cadaver" and examine the body in microscopic detail. For example, through the lens of the VR headset, students can get a macro view of the lung and then zoom in for a micro view of the capillaries that wrap the lung's alveoli or clusters of little air sacs. "It's pretty incredible," enthuses Sarah.

Melissa agrees. "It gives you a three-dimensional, interactive look into the human body. You can break it down by body system. You can look at different organs from different angles. You can turn off layers so you only see the bone structure or the cardiovascular system. It really helps you to visualize and understand how parts of the body are interconnected."

Sarah says VR technology could be applied to the instruction of other programs NBCC offers across the province, such as Respiratory Therapy and Pharmacology. "Anything to do with the human body."

Going Beyond Campaign

The technology was made possible by donors to NBCC's Going Beyond campaign to create more future-forward learning opportunities for its students.

Among them is Medavie.

As a national health solutions partner, Medavie employs Registered Nurses (RNs), Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and former nurses throughout the organization – in its offices, in air and ground ambulances, communication centres and more. Medavie, through the Medavie Foundation, made a $100,000 contribution to the campaign that will support the establishment of virtual classrooms and health simulation labs.

Adopting the latest tools and technology gives students equal access to experiential, applied learning, regardless of where they live, and trains more health care workers to join the workforce. This helps to address one of the biggest challenges facing the health care system today — the human resourcing shortage for qualified health care workers.

“I hope to work on enhancing this generous gift from Medavie so that NBCC students can be provided with cutting edge technology that will promote superb assessments skills and critical thinking” says Sarah.

Sarah Lens
Sarah Brown, Instructor Practical Nurse/Practical Support Worker Programs

A future of collaboration

She envisions a day when NBCC and University of New Brunswick students taking nursing (or any health discipline) come together to simulate work in a hospital ward with LPNs and RNs collaborating as a team "to provide the best assessment and care to their patients.”

Melissa, an Ontario native who now lives in New Brunswick with her husband and Bernese Mountain dog, Monty, wishes the technology had been available when she started the two-year PN program as a mature student. "I'm jealous of the students who will get to work with Sarah next fall and for this to be (an established) part of their learning.

"I think it makes you just that more prepared for the clinical setting. The anatomy is the basis of all our learning, so to help us get a stronger grasp of the anatomy, that just sets us them up for more success in the program and their careers."

Melissa isn't yet sure what the future holds for her as a next-generation health care worker but believes nursing offers the fulfillment she didn't get from a previous career in graphic design.

"I do really enjoy acute care nursing (in hospital) and have a particular interest in cardiac care and community wellness, so we will see where this new career takes me. That's one of the great things about nursing that really interested me, there are so many areas to branch out to, and you're continually learning. "

To learn more about Medavie’s partnership with New Brunswick Community College to support the training and education of the health workers of tomorrow, check out this video.

Medavie Nursing Lab 2
Presiding at the opening of the Medavie Nursing Lab, left to right are: Mark Flint, Chair, Board of Governors NBCC, Mary Butler, President and CEO of NBCC, Ray Hubble, Dean of School of Health and Wellness, Courtney Henderson, PN2 Student, Guy Richard, PN 2 Student, Sarah Brown, Instructor Practical Nurse/Practical Support Worker Programs, Tammy Groom, Academic Chair Practical Nurse/Practical Support Worker Programs, and Ginette Pellerin, Vice President, Extra-Mural Program operations, Medavie Health Services-New Brunswick (Photos by NBCC Photographer Bailey Forward)

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