Education & Training
Nursing embraces virtual tools to keep skills sharp during pandemic
March 29, 2021
Nursing student Victoria Ahmadi hasn’t been able to participate in any clinical rounds in the hospital because of COVID-19 restrictions. But a virtual reality platform allows her to experience life-like hospital scenarios with patients directly from her home computer.
“We’re even given scenarios that we wouldn’t [necessarily] be able to experience as students, like this one patient with an allergic reaction who broke out into hives while I was talking to her,” says Ahmadi, who will graduate from Seneca College’s School of Nursing in Toronto this year. “It forced my critical thinking skills, and it was awesome.”
The platform offered through Oxford Medical Simulation is just one of several ways nursing schools like Seneca and other learning institutions across the country are embedding technology into their curriculums to better prepare health care graduates for what they’ll encounter in the workplace.
“While the pandemic has been horrible for the world, one benefit has been this push to VR platforms,” says Seneca’s Sharon Cassar, academic chair in the School of Nursing. “When we come back to campus and do in-person simulations with mannequins, we also have these VR headsets where students can immerse themselves in a room and safely engage in scenarios.”
Developing nursing instincts: Cassar says much of students’ online learning experiences in the past have been one-dimensional, watching videos and exploring the web. “With this, they’re in a platform where they’re forced to do something and that’s stimulating them to think like nurses,” she says.
“When a nurse walks into a room, they’re quickly gathering data like skin colour, bed position and how a patient is breathing. This platform is fostering that ability to synthesize multiple data points and formulate them into a decision.”
In a typical nursing program, Cassar says it would be impossible to give every student the same practical experiences in a clinical setting. “But now we can standardize the experiences our students will be exposed to so they can do it again and again – until it becomes part of their muscle memory,” she says. “It’s exciting for educators because we’re helping build a stronger nurse.”
The University of British Columbia is another innovative university using a web-based learning platform – developed in-house – to help medical students gain confidence with patient encounters. Their program, called CyberPatient, allows students to follow their patients through a continuum of care, take medical histories, perform exams, order tests and come up with a diagnosis and treatment plan.
At the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing at Ryerson University, a virtual hospital houses a series of simulation games to help students develop skills in a way that is both fun and informative. (See https://de.ryerson.ca/games/nursing/hospital).
The first game on pediatric health assessment was launched in 2013, and since then, the nursing program has launched games covering topics such as mental health, gerontology and medical surgery. “When we first started making these games, we found a topic and then a course where it would work,” says Daria Romaniuk, associate director of the collaborative degree program. “Now we’re identifying areas of a course where a simulation game would work and developing one to fit.”
The free games, offered in collaboration with nursing schools at Centennial College and George Brown College, are open to anyone online. (See https://www.coursecompare.ca/best-nursing-schools-nursing-colleges-and-universities/). They take up to 60 minutes to play, can be repeated several times to improve responses, and provide the user with a summary report with suggested links to further reading modules as needed. “We’ve certainly seen an uptake throughout the pandemic and have lots of inquiries from different faculties about our games,” says Romaniuk.
The latest stats from October 2020 show the mental health assessment game was played by 97,000 people a total of 174,000 times. She says the faculty has plans to develop at least three more games over the next year and a half.
Gearing up for virtual care: On top of using innovative technologies to train future health care providers, colleges and universities are also ensuring graduates are ready for a new era of digital healthcare.
Natalie Crown, acting director of the Doctor of Pharmacy program at the University of Toronto’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, says pharmacy students are being trained on how to navigate an electronic health record and conduct virtual medication reviews with patients.
“Our students now take a health informatics course that’s designed to prepare them for the skills they need to operate in the digital age,” she says. “We’ve also brought in more e-health through our series of health system courses.” In fact, U of T’s pharmacy faculty helped lead a national initiative to develop an e-resource related to topics in digital health informatics for pharmacy students across Canada.
Rosalind Stefanac is a freelance writer specializing on healthcare topics.