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'This will translate to the real world': Nursing students learn skills through virtual reality

Training in hospitals is limited during the COVID-19 pandemic but virtual reality is filling that gap.

PORTLAND, Maine — Nursing students have had few opportunities to learn in hospital settings because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But students at the University of New England's School of Nursing and Population Health program are learning skills to prepare for the real world with the help of virtual reality simulations.

During class on UNE's Portland campus, nursing students are assessing a patient through a virtual reality simulation program. 

One scenario takes place in a hospital maternity ward. Students must first determine the symptoms of a pregnant patient, who was just sent over from her doctor's office. Students check reflexes, vital signs of both mom and baby. 

Through VR nursing students are learning hands-on skills at a time when watching "real world" hospitalizations is very limited. 

"With the challenges of COVID-19, oftentimes those units are closed to our students for learning, so being able to experience in the virtual reality has been a huge benefit," Dawn-Marie Dunbar, the director of the UNE Simulation Center, said.

Kathleen Humphries, who is a senior in the program, said the scenarios make her feel like she is actually in the room with the patient. 

"It does allow us to screen for more critical cases where we need to do interventions and call providers," Humphries said.

After the students run through a scenario, they get immediate feedback on their mistakes without the stress of "practicing" skills on a real patient.

"A lot of times we can go back in and redo the scenario and it's a good opportunity to really learn," Katy Hancock, a senior nursing student said. 

Students are practicing different virtual scenarios including pediatric wards and community clinics to better equip these future nurses to care for patients in any type of setting.