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Virtual Reality Technology Could Be a Wave of the Future at MGH Institute

September 24, 2021
Rebecca Inzana with VR headset.
Rebecca Inzana with VR headset.

Students wearing virtual reality headsets to gain valuable clinical experiences may be in the MGH Institute’s future if a new pilot study goes as expected. 

Rebecca Inzana, an assistant professor in the Center for Interprofessional Studies and Innovation, has received one of three grants from the Interprofessional Task Force of the Association of Schools Advancing Health Professions, in partnership with the University of Cincinnati. “Health professions faculty perceptions of employing virtual reality technology to create interprofessional simulation-based educational activities guided by principles of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion: A pilot study” will explore health professions faculty perceptions of using virtual reality (VR) technology to present anti-oppressive, interprofessional clinical education opportunities across the Institute’s physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, genetic counseling, physician assistant studies, and nursing programs. 

Inzana devised the idea while doing an independent study project as part of her PhD program at Lesley University. Working with Dr. Mary Knab, the MGH Institute’s associate provost for interprofessional education and practice, Inzana explored current trends in simulated learning environments and found that VR simulation technology is being used in physician and nursing training, but scenarios are not inclusive of, being created for, or marketed to other health professions.  

“VR technology has opened the door to substantial innovations in clinical learning environments, offering simulated experiences that can be custom built to achieve an array of learning objectives. I’m curious to know if and how our faculty across the IHP might consider using VR, with a particular emphasis on justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion,” Inzana said, noting that a major advantage of using VR is the ability to present learners with rich and diverse patient and care-team scenarios they may not be able to experience caring for patients in hospital or other clinical settings.  

Inzana will use the grant funding to purchase several VR headsets. Thanks to a free trial from a leading VR healthcare training software company, teams of faculty participants from each of the school’s programs can experience immersive learning scenarios and provide feedback around their impressions on the potential utility of VR simulation in their teaching practices to achieve course, program, and institutional learning objectives.  

“It’s impressive that Rebecca and her team will investigate ways for faculty to improve how students receive clinical experiences as well as advance the Institute’s commitment to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion,” said Dr. Nara Gavini, the associate provost for research.  

If the results are favorable, Inzana envisions writing a larger grant application to accelerate the possibility of incorporating the technology at the IHP, which currently does not use VR. 

“I believe in the benefits of experiential learning at all ages. VR can be a very engaging way to learn, and I look forward to exploring its potential across health professions with my colleagues,” she said. 

Inzana’s interprofessional research team includes Knab; Midge Hobbs, the IMPACT Practice curriculum director; Gregory Moore, senior instructional technologist & application specialist; Denis Stratford, the chief operating officer; and Callie Watkins-Liu, the associate director of JEDI curriculum, pedagogy and faculty support.