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Ohio University Chillicothe nursing students embrace VR for real-world patient care insights

Ohio University's College of Health Sciences and Professions is an early adopter of technology in healthcare education. Future healthcare professionals at OHIO have experienced immersive learning environments for more than two decades.

Together with faculty from the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and the Game Research and Immersive Design (GRID) Lab, faculty at CHSP created immersive simulations and groundbreaking virtual reality videos featuring scenarios that shed light on the complexities of healthcare in rural communities and aimed to reduce healthcare worker stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the college's most recent employment of technology in teaching, nursing students at Ohio University Chillicothe receive comprehensive training through simulations involving manikins, actors, and medical equipment, and now, through a new virtual reality platform, are deepening their empathy and understanding of patient experiences.

With recent funding from the Office of Undergraduate Experiential Learning, Associate Professor of Nursing Camille Leadingham has integrated virtual reality (VR) into the curriculum to enhance students' preparation for their nursing careers.

The VR platform, Embodied Labs, immerses students in simulations that depict common conditions affecting seniors, such as hearing and vision loss, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer's disease. Additionally, students experience modules on topics like PTSD, transgender health and LGBT experiences.

“VR engages students in their learning process. It offers an authentic, immersive experience that enhances their understanding of older adults navigating the aging process," Leadingham said.

Junior nursing student Emily Pohlman shared her impactful experience with a VR module, where she gained insight into the challenges faced by aging patients.

"The VR system is very similar to gaming devices, fitting over your face," Pohlman explained.

In one scenario, she observed a man in his 70s with macular degeneration and hearing loss experiencing his own birthday party. Pohlman reflected on the sensory limitations and how frustrating it was to experience interactions with limited sight and vision, realizing the importance of empathy in nursing care.

"You don't realize how much someone has lost until you experience it yourself. The amount of empathy you can have for others can be limited if you've never had a similar experience," Pohlman remarked. Her virtual experience extended to a doctor's appointment, where she witnessed the significance of accommodating a patient's hearing impairment.

Jared Kaiser, also a junior nursing student, said the VR module highlighted not only visual and auditory challenges but also cognition issues. He described part of the immersive experience where he felt like he drifted off into a daydream, only to snap back into the challenging dinner table scenario.

“It opens your eyes,” Kaiser said. “Not everybody can hear like you, not everybody can see like you. It puts you in someone else’s shoes to experience what they're experiencing.”

Kaiser believes the VR experience and the perspective it imparts will help nursing students better care for patients with the conditions or concerns represented in the scenarios. He stressed the importance of understanding patients' perspectives and adjusting communication methods to provide optimal care in a clinical setting.

Pohlman emphasized the importance of assessing patients' limitations and capabilities. She believes the VR encounter will help her thoughtfully approach and treat patients with respect while preserving their independence as much as possible.

“It drives home the importance of understanding a patient's limitations and capabilities, and how it affects the care they receive,” Pohlman said.

Leadingham noted that VR technology promotes cultural competence in nursing, preparing students to address the diverse healthcare needs of patients. The integration of VR modules into the curriculum ensures that students apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations. This approach enhances their understanding of conditions, situations, and populations, which may not be encountered in traditional clinical settings.

According to Leadingham, research supports the efficacy of VR simulations in nursing education. The innovative use of VR technology at Ohio University Chillicothe signifies a significant advancement in nursing education, providing students with experiential and applied learning activities to meet the evolving demands of the healthcare industry.

Pohlman and Kaiser’s experiences exemplify the transformative potential of VR as a pedagogical tool, fostering empathy and respect in nursing education. Both students look forward to exploring additional VR scenarios that simulate different scenarios. Ohio University Chillicothe's commitment to innovative approaches continues to inspire students as they prepare to address the complex healthcare needs of future patients.

Ohio University's School of Nursing is experiencing rapid growth within the College of Health Sciences and Professions. Its diverse offerings include online RN-to-BSN programs and specialized MSN tracks alongside traditional BSNs on Athens, Chillicothe, Eastern, Southern and Zanesville campuses. This extensive range caters to both aspiring and experienced nurses seeking advancement.

This article was originally published on Nov. 20, 2023. Last updated on Jan. 11, 2024.

November 20, 2023
Staff reports