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Learning the VR way

SSM Health introduces new training technology

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May 14, 2024

FOND DU LAC – For clinicians who are training at SSM Health Fond du Lac Regional Center, virtual reality (VR) has entered the class.

Some may have been introduced to VR through video games, which are played through an Oculus – a device that is placed on someone’s head and uses 3D near-eye displays and positional tracking to create a virtual reality environment.

Nurses at SSM Health will now be able to use Oculus headsets to immerse themselves in realistic training in a clinical setting.

The headsets, Mel Thompson, a registered nurse and regional manager of clinical education at SSM Health, said is a “natural next step that nurses are now using in nursing school.”

“(The) COVID-19 pandemic helped drive virtual reality in patient care,” she said. “Where we couldn’t go into the clinical setting, they were able to use this as a safe way to interact with the patient and do their training.”

And, with gamification being the “next wave of education,” Thompson said it made sense to introduce VR training to nurses at SSM Health.

“You’re learning as you’re playing simulation games‚ ” she said. “It’s a style of learning that we’ve engaged to do quick, micro-learning lessons.”

Training simulations
The Oculus comes with three pieces: the headset and two controllers, one for each hand.

Nurses who are learning how to use the VR headset, Thompson said, will begin in the sandbox – which is a simulation that allows trainees to get used to the technology – learning how to use the correct buttons and grab items.

“It feels like you’re in a patient room taking care of a patient,” she said.

Other training scenarios, she said, include someone with an internal hemorrhage, a patient in labor, medical emergencies, trauma and pediatric.

Right now, Thompson said SSM has 12 scenarios to pick from.

Different training simulations can be added, which she said SSM will continue to do down the road as real-life scenarios spark new learning opportunities.

“What are we seeing in our practice?” she said. “And where are we finding areas we need to work on as far as low volume, high-risk skill or scenario we need to work through. Or, if we have a specific competency the team wants to work on, we can create a scenario that matches that.”

Caron Lewis, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient experience for SSM Health in Wisconsin, said though technology has continued to grow and evolve in the patient care environment, it’s never been used in nursing curriculums.

“I love this because it will help them,” she said. “We teach in groups, and we do virtual scenarios in groups and mock codes, but they don’t have anywhere where they can do it – (this provides a) safe environment (to practice them).”

Lewis said the Oculus headsets provide clinicians throughout the SSM Health System the opportunity to work in the same simulation.

Team response
Though the addition of the new technology has caused some hesitations, once the clinicians learn the VR system, Thompson said they become more comfortable.

“Our learners that so far we’ve put in during our open houses (highlighting the headsets) have all loved it,” she said. “They love the technology (aspect) of it‚ Once (they) get into it, they just keep going.”

And, though some of the newer nurses have had VR incorporated into their schooling, Thompson said the technology is for everyone, regardless of their tenure or experience with VR.

“We talk a lot about our new nurses, as they use this technology in school for skills-based things,” she said. “It’s building on that concept to bring them into the next step‚ But also, for our experienced nurses, (it) helps teach them in a new way a skill they may not have done for a while or to help support them within our system.”

Tami Schattschneider, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer of SSM Health St. Agnes Hospital, said it’s “almost a role reversal” between generations of nurses.

“Our younger nurses who are newer in practice in this capacity can share their knowledge and experience with the older nurses,” she said. “And that’s such a nice relationship when you can both benefit from a learning experience and the younger nurses can teach the older nurses something new.”

After using the Oculus headset for the first time, Wendy Hoepfner, a 5-South unit manager at SSM Health St. Agnes Hospital, said “wow.”

“I graduated from nursing school in 1991, so I haven’t seen any virtual reality simulations,” she said. “I know they’re doing it at the nursing schools now, but it was neat to see.”

Hoepfner said that by putting students in nursing school in real-life situations through VR, “they’ll come out better prepared.”

“Even for teaching things like ACLs or mock codes – I can see the benefit in doing it in a virtual reality scenario,” she said.

Julie Hernandez, 4 South, 4 West manager at SSM Health St. Agnes Hospital, who graduated from nursing school in 2002, said compared to the typical training where multiple people are in one room and working on a mannequin, the VR simulation allowed her to be more relaxed.

Tami Schattschneider said VR training will allow nurses to keep their skills sharp in a variety of different areas. Rachel Sankey Photo

“It was more of a comforting environment, where you felt safe to say what you needed to say, like, ‘where’s this? Where’s that?’ and to think your process through,” she said.

Echoing Hernandez’s sentiment, Lewis said the VR training provides a “safe environment mentally and physically with the patient.”

“Not only is it going to help enhance competencies, but confidence in that safe environment,” she said. “We must enhance competencies, but it’s just as important for (a nurse’s) psychological safety that they feel that confidence.”

When Hernandez started as a CNA and was learning BLS (basic life support), she said it was intimidating.

“It was with doctors, it was with nurses, it was with everybody,” she said. “You didn’t say a word. You didn’t want to look silly in front of anybody. So, (with VR), I feel like people just talk because nobody knows who’s saying it.”

Better learning, better care
Historically, Schattschneider said a nursing student’s experience was all hands-on at the bedside, and every nurse’s experience was different depending on what their clinical rotation looked like in school.

“I did a semester in public health, but then I didn’t get behavioral health (for example),” she said. “There might have been things you missed because there’s a lot to learn, and you can’t possibly cover every scenario in person.”

The introduction of VR training, Schattschneider said, provides nurses with an opportunity to practice scenarios they may not have encountered during their clinicals.

The headsets, she said, also allow clinicians to stay sharp in skills they may not use as often.

“There are things that we don’t do frequently, but they’re important that we do them well, every time,” she said. “(Now), you can practice those things over and over, so you’re always ready.”

VR training is also much more interactive, whereas Schattschneider said training in the past was “more like role-playing.”
“(This) feels more real,” she said. “It’s as close to real as we can get right now.”

Lewis said “this is just the beginning” in terms of VR learning.

“We’re going to use this technology for operating rooms,” she said. “We have a large behavioral health population, and that takes particular skills and working with them, especially when they’re having a mental break. We’re going to create those situations so we can work through and practice them.”

Though implementing new technology can be expensive, Schattschneider said “it’s money well spent.”

“I am happy that SSM continues to invest in these types of technologies to build our nursing staff and help them be even stronger clinically,” she said.

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