At the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria (UICOMP) was looking for ways to safely transition to virtual medical student training.

Preparation for the move to virtual training began before the first cases of COVID-19 arrived in America, because in order to keep med students safe during the pandemic they cannot always participate in bedside rounds, assist in surgeries, or learn from live scenarios. Medical leaders at UICOMP and the OSF HealthCare System wanted to make sure students could learn safely, while still making sure the training was as effective as in-person training. Their goals led them to pursue virtual reality (VR) training.

“There is a real value in experiential learning and with today’s reality, COVID-19 makes it very challenging to connect medical students, and in some cases, medical residents, with real life scenarios to test their ability to assess patients and make critically important decisions about their care,” Dr. Teresa Riech, said in a press release from OSF HealthCare System.

Dr. Riech worked with a team from UICOMP and OSF HealthCare and investigated the use of virtual reality as a training tool to help medical students diagnose critically-ill patients. Their initial cohort of 20 patients were volunteer medical students from UICOMP, the press release explained.

To test the effectiveness of VR training, Riech and her team created two VR cases – an adult with unstable heart rhythm, and a child with difficulty breathing. Using the VR training platform Enduvo, specially-trained actors were filmed playing the roles of the patients presenting with signs and symptoms of distress. This was then embedded in the Enduvo VR platform. Lectures were built into the modules and med students were able to proceed through the cases at their own pace while being provided immediate feedback on answers to questions, UICOMP and OSF HealthCare System explained.

Following the initial pilot of the training, Riech and her team shared their results:

  • “Learners rated VR equal to or better than traditional lecture.
  • Medical students took the opportunity to review the material carefully, remaining in the learning environment well beyond recorded time (not an option in traditional lecture).
  • The immersive nature minimizes distraction. Not one student checked their phone to answer a text or look at a notification while wearing the VR headset.
  • The cases recorded separately by different instructors resulted in final modules that were within 8 seconds in length suggesting the template could be used for future case development.”

Riech said this new type of training offers advantages over traditional classroom learning for students who are digital natives.

“There is much less eye contact now in the classroom. Truthfully, it is a very different culture than from when I started teaching many years ago. In the digital age, this is how we keep learner attention most effectively,” according to Riech. She added, “Medical students are not going to listen to me for 30 minutes or certainly not for an hour but when you flip the classroom and they have control over it, it’s a very different outcome.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs