First-of-its-kind virtual reality training for nurses launches in Minnesota
A pilot program recently launched in the Twin Cities hopes to revolutionize how nurses are trained.
The University of Minnesota School of Nursing worked with a virtual reality company to develop an “immersive simulation experience” for nurses, thanks to a $1.3 million grant from the American Nurses Foundation.
The U of M is leading the initiative, with partner sites at Purdue University and the University of Michigan.
“This is a first,” said Cynthia Bradley, assistant professor and director of simulation for nursing programs at the U of M. “It’s the first multiple-patient virtual reality scenario to hit the market.”
Participants wear a virtual reality headset, with speakers and hand controllers, and are transported into training modules featuring patients in various emergency situations, such as labor and delivery and life-threatening allergic reactions.
“When they put on the headset, they’re completely immersed in the patient’s room,” explained Bradley. “You can move across the room, you go to the bedside, you talk to the patient. They can make all the decisions we expect nurses to make without any risk to any real patient.”
The U of M is partnering with M Health Fairview to expand this technology to new nurses already practicing in hospitals, as part of a nurse residency pilot program that launched in November.
Nearly 30 nurses from M Health Fairview participated in virtual reality patient simulations at the U of M’s School of Nursing Thursday.
“This is actually my first exposure to virtual reality,” said Lauren Nitahara, who has been working as an emergency department nurse for four months. “It gave me a lot more autonomy, a lot more room to make mistakes, without that pressure of, oh my gosh, this is a real patient and there are real consequences.”
Program coordinators said the technology allows nursing students and new nurses to experience high-stress situations in a low-stakes environment.
“What we’ve heard early on in this pilot was, ‘I was the nurse. I was in charge. I got to make decisions and I felt safe to make those decisions,’ which then translates into confidence,” said Katie Pitzl, assistant manager of clinical education and learning at M Health Fairview. “I just have high hopes for where this can go for our profession.”
She hopes it will also allow nurses to have more realistic expectations of the job to ultimately improve nurse retention across their hospitals.
“It can feel really scary as a new graduate nurse to take care of a patient that’s so sick, so early in your career. So if you can practice making mistakes and you can learn from your mistakes, you can get the support and encouragement you need to carry that forward into your practice.”
The program is expected to roll out to other schools in Minnesota and across the country in the years to come.
“There’s a lot happening in health care right now where nurses are in situations they’ve not been in before. It’s very challenging, we have a nursing shortage and there’s a lot of extra variables impacting how nurses deliver care,” Bradley said. “Our goal is to help nurses feel prepared and confident to take on all of the things they’re seeing in health care today.”