Educating the Next Generation of Nurses in the Metaverse

While the metaverse may seem like an unlikely place to train new nursing students, in actuality, all signs point to it as the next frontier for today’s nursing education programs. Consider the possibilities—in the virtual world, nursing educators can train unlimited numbers of students on everything from interacting interpersonally with patients to performing complex procedures.

Although hype on how it can be used certainly abounds, and, in some cases surpasses what is practical in the real world, virtual reality (VR) nonetheless is showing enormous promise in healthcare today. Among its many applications is the use of VR in the classroom, with 38% of nursing institutions planning to invest in VR technology this year.1

Greater interest in VR comes at a time when schools are feeling pressured to turn out more practice-ready nurses with the clinical judgment skills to make in-the-moment clinical decisions. It is an alarming fact that nursing programs have found it increasingly difficult to graduate nurses at the rate required to offset the decline in the nursing workforce. Ironically, as the need for nurses increases, nursing schools are turning away students in record numbers. In 2020 alone, nursing schools turned 80,521 qualified students away due to a shortage of clinical sites, faculty, and other resource constraints.2

The shortage of clinical sites also means that students simply can’t get the hands-on clinical time required through a traditional approach. Research shows that students who have developed fundamental nursing skills in a virtual environment are likely to feel more comfortable and confident with live patients, improving their readiness while minimizing the harm that may result from interventions in real clinical settings.3

VR Boosts Student Readiness for Real-world Practice

Over the past few years, many virtual applications for nursing students have proven their viability to provide the patient interaction and hands-on clinical time students need to meet graduation requirements. These resources have quickly proven that they are here to stay. Immersive VR training provides students with a safe-to-fail environment where they can participate in different patient scenarios and have experiences that have never been available before.

For example, students may enter a hospital room to take a patient’s blood pressure or start an IV. They can move around the patient’s bed, interact with the patient, and decide on the best angle to approach them. Importantly, the student can be presented with multiple patient scenarios, requiring that they make judgments, shift priorities as care needs change, and perform interventions on virtual patients to gain experience without jeopardizing safety.

While nothing will replace real-world clinical experiences, providing a supplemental and experiential way of learning is key to today’s learners. The experience allows the student to interact with objects in a virtual environment and feels like they are physically there. It also allows them to learn critical skills such as communication, collaboration, and decision-making, helping to build confidence as they prepare for licensure exams and transition to caring for actual patients. All of this is taking place in a context where teachers can review and provide feedback in real time.

Exercises Are Growing in the Metaverse, With More to Come

Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has accelerated the shift to virtual learning. However, this transition was underway, albeit more slowly, before the pandemic. But as schools frantically transitioned to virtual learning during the pandemic, the era of a hybrid experience was permanently ushered in. The “classroom of the future” fully leverages technology to deliver students a variety of learning experiences that engage students and help them assess, acquire, and manage their knowledge. By 2025, a full one-third of institutions will have adopted technologies that build skills such as clinical judgment, problem solving, innovation, digital literacy, and adaptability.1

We can look to schools such as the University of Rochester School of Nursing as an example of this future learning experience and how technology is redefining that experience. Nationally recognized as an innovator in nursing education, the university has a simulation environment that provides experiential learning, giving students realistic insight into every aspect of their future roles in nursing—from patient interaction and care, to solving clinical problems, to communicating and collaborating within a healthcare team.

We are still in the early days of fully leveraging VR in education to meet these objectives. What we’ve learned so far is that VR boosts students’ concentration, engagement, confidence, motivation, and creativity and allows them to put theory into practice, learning at their own pace4. It also allows students to practice whenever and wherever they want in safe and realistic environments without fear of making mistakes and harming patients.5

Over time, we expect to see more patient scenarios—across specialties and disease states—that are increasingly complex and sophisticated, reflecting the reality of a real-world clinical setting. These complex scenarios will challenge students to make more in-the-moment care decisions and put their critical thinking and problem-solving skills into practice.

We see VR as a progression of learning. It starts with screen-based, single-patient scenarios available through virtual simulations that are designed to introduce students to basic practice. Next, students progress to advanced experiential, multi-patient care scenarios that allow them to physically interact with their surroundings. The final, still essential phase, is in-person clinicals in a care setting. The initial progression from simulation to VR helps students build and strengthen clinical judgment and critical thinking skills as they progress through the curriculum, moving toward increasingly complex decision-making.

Overall, leveraging VR and the growing availability of the metaverse is an exciting proposition for nursing education, helping to prepare students to enter the profession fully. It represents a tremendous opportunity to help shorten the ramp-up and training time that has traditionally come with nurses transitioning from school to the workforce. Improving nurses’ confidence and skill sets heading into the role enables them to provide appropriate patient care—a powerful advantage that will only continue to grow over time and make them better nurses.

It’s time to face the facts. Today’s students arrive already steeped in augmented and virtual reality. They thrive in daily messaging interactions using animated Instagram filters and Memojis. Decompressing after class includes such activities as Beat Saber marathons played with virtual friends worldwide or surprisingly challenging virtual workouts with Supernatural. This may seem foreign to many of us from a different generation, but we must keep up, trusting that delivering nursing education with VR will feel intuitive and second nature to Millennial and Gen Z students.

References:

1. “Forecast for the Future: Technology Trends in Nursing Education,” Wolters Kluwer and the National League for Nursing, 2021.

2. National League for Nursing.

3. https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/73839.

4. Nehring WM, Lashley FR. “Nursing Simulation: A Review of the Past 40 Years.” Simulation & Gaming. 2009;40(4):528-552. DOI: 10.1177/1046878109332282.

5. Çavaş B, Çavaş PH, Can BT. “Eğitimde sanal gerçeklik.” TOJET: The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology. 2004;3(4):110-116.

  • Julie Stegman

    Julie Stegman is Vice President, Nursing Segment, Health Learning, Research & Practice at Wolters Kluwer, Health. With more than 20 years of experience in key leadership roles across critical sectors of the information services industry, Julie is noted for her proven track record of transforming businesses through customer-centered innovation and digital transformation.

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