HealthApril 05, 2023

Why the time is now for virtual reality in nursing education

The numbers don’t lie. Faced with a ballooning nursing shortage, U.S. health systems are in desperate need for more bedside nurses, especially in acute care hospitals where the most vulnerable patients receive care. Unrealistic workloads and high patient-to-nurse ratios are among the reasons for the mass exodus being seen today, potentially putting patients at risk.

How can the U.S. healthcare industry possibly fill the shortage gap, which is expected to result in a shortfall of between 200,000 and 450,000 registered nurses (RNs) by 2025? While the answer is complex, at least part of the solution is to increase the number of new nurses entering the profession. However, this is an equally daunting challenge, as today’s nursing schools struggle with insufficient faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, clinical preceptors, and budget constraints, resulting in a limited capacity to meet demand. In 2022, U.S. nursing schools turned away 91,938 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs.

To address these issues, nursing schools must reinvent their programs, particularly by creating more opportunities for clinical experience. Many schools are turning to virtual reality (VR) and complementing forms of simulation to increase experiential learning, with 65% of today’s nursing education programs using virtual simulation in some form. While computer-based simulation and mannequins are proven to teach diagnostic skills effectively, VR takes the simulated clinical experience to the next level, more realistically duplicating the complexities of a hectic hospital environment, which typically involves caring for multiple patients, prioritizing, and safely making crucial clinical judgments related to each patient’s care.

The revolutionary role of virtual simulation in nursing education

With the introduction of vrClinicals for Nursing, Wolters Kluwer has collaborated with Laerdal Medical and the National League for Nursing (NLN) to immerse students in real-world clinical scenarios. With scenarios written by the NLN, students are continuously challenged to make decisions, moving between multiple patient rooms to provide care. In fact, the solution builds on the longstanding partnership between the organizations to take virtual simulation to the next level with the co-development of a VR solution.

How does it work? Donning a VR headset and handheld controls, students enter a simulated hospital environment that challenges them to choose and work through various scenarios. Moving virtually in and out of patient rooms, they have the ability to check patient histories and look for and recognize issues or cues that could be of concern. They can also perform simple procedures like taking the patient’s blood pressure or heart rate. The multi-patient experience creates the same sense of urgency today’s bedside nurses experience daily on a busy hospital floor.

This ability to take students into simulations that mimic the real life of a clinical setting gives educators yet another tool to reinforce and build on decision-making capabilities and strengthen clinical judgment, prioritizing multiple patients with complex cases while coping with frequent interruptions and patient requests.

The use of VR technology mirrors “the day-to-day unpredictability of nursing,” says Leila Casteel, DNP, APRN, NP-C, Associate Vice President, Curriculum & Innovation at Herzing University, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based private university testing vrClinicals for Nursing as part of its clinical training program. “At the heart of clinical judgment is decision-making and how we determine next steps,” she explains. “For students to be able to think that way, they have to start thinking about not only the decisions they’re making but why they are making them, what the risks are, and making alternative decisions.”

Casteel adds, "What virtual simulation provides is the opportunity to explore and make a decision. Maybe it’s not the right one, but now you’ve got this excellent opportunity to explore that decision in a more meaningful way so that you can try again. It is just enough urgency, similar to what you would see in a clinical setting. One of the best things about the virtual experience is that it can be very intentional and have specific outcomes that are assigned and aligned with whatever’s happening in a course. You can ensure that all your students get that experience from end to end, which feels much better than the uncertainty of just sending them out.”

VR augments live experience to increase capacity

While VR isn’t a replacement for live clinical experience, it is a way for nursing schools to increase the capacity of their clinical training programs to graduate more new nurses, despite a shortage of faculty and live clinical training sites. This is good news, as it offers the potential to train more students better — and faster — helping to ensure they are practice-ready when they enter the real world of nursing. It is also expected to better prepare graduates for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX®), which now places greater focus on clinical judgment through case-study scenarios.

How are nursing students responding to the assimilation of VR? Castell explains that they are receptive and comfortable with it, having grown up with technology as a constant presence in their life. “They are almost drawn to it because that is now the norm. If the experience itself is meaningful, students report that not only did they learn something, but they were given that brain space to think about what they were learning, so it sticks a bit more. When it is done well, students really like it.”

Learn more about vrClinicals for Nursing, and sign up today to stay informed about this exciting new solution in action.

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