360-degree headsets take hundreds of UEA medical students into a virtual reality

Published by  Communications

On 29th Oct 2021

MED students using the VR headsets

The University of East Anglia (UEA) has taken teaching doctors, nurses and healthcare experts of the future into the virtual world by giving all students at Norwich Medical School their own virtual reality (VR) headsets.

 

The immersive 3D video content is brought to life with the new VR headsets, giving students the ability to transport themselves to environments like operating theatres, casualty rooms and hospital wards – and even uniquely experience appointments and procedures from a patient’s perspective.

 

UEA is the first university in the UK to provide medical students with their own personal VR headsets, with all 1,250 students in Norwich Medical School equipped with one for the full five years of their degree, and able to choose from one of four bespoke designs.

The number of clinical placements for medical students last year was hit nationwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the headsets give them the unique opportunity to virtually immerse themselves in medical emergencies, surgical procedures and rare medical scenarios from their own home at their own convenience.

The headsets are designed to be used with students’ smartphones, converting 360-degree video content into immersive, 3D experiences. Videos are available to watch via the YouTube app and are compatible with the headsets through ‘VR mode’. When the user turns their head whilst using the VR headset, the perspective turns with them to allow them to look around the virtual environment. This transports students into the videos that they are watching, giving them the feeling that they are actually present in the room, taking part in the unfolding scenario.

 

Examples of the simulations created for Norwich Medical School students so far include observing an A&E doctor assessing and treating an unwell patient with chest pain, watching the trauma team manage a patient with burns and fractures, and standing at the end of the bed whilst a patient undergoes the start of an operation.

Dr Jordan Tsigarides, an Academic Clinical Fellow at the School of Health Sciences at UEA and VR lead for the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, led the project to equip the students with the headsets, including a video on how to use them, which included examples of footage of the VR experience.

He said: “It’s no secret that the pandemic has highlighted the difficulty of arranging placements for medical students in healthcare settings but this is an innovation that we have been working on for some time and COVID has only accelerated us bringing it in.

“We still want our students to have as much face-to-face learning in hospitals and NHS trusts as they can. Their VR headset won’t be replacing those experiences for our students, but what it will allow them is new opportunities to gain immersive real-life clinical experiences in a virtual way, utilising modern technology to enable students the flexibility to engage whenever and wherever they like.

“Through the use of VR, we are also able to give students the unique opportunity to step into the shoes of their patients to experience the world from the patient’s perspective. This has the incredible potential to harbour empathy and improve students’ understanding of the challenges that accompany medical conditions like dementia.”

Caitlin McArthur, third year Norwich Medical School student at UEA, said: “It’s going to be a brilliant way to bridge the gap, especially with the pandemic. We have been able to go on to placement more recently but there is still an element of online teaching, so to be able to immerse yourself in your own room is going to be a really useful tool for us and I really do believe that UEA has thought about the student experience.”

Alys Burns, MBBS Medicine Course Director at UEA, said: “Our medical students have a packed schedule while they’re with us but we know that they really value that practical experience. So the additional flexibility is going to really benefit them and the feedback we’ve had so far is that being able to immerse themselves in a clinical environment is almost as good as actually being in the room.”

So far, students from Norwich Medical School are able to choose from 30 different 360 videos covering different areas of the course, including anatomy, emergency medicine and examinations. Jordan and the team at Norwich Medical School plan to roll out more content in areas including gastroenterology, neurology and paediatrics, and are even developing a ‘choose your own adventure’ experience for students.

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