Virtual patients teach University of St. Thomas nursing students

Nursing students at the University of St. Thomas are virtually living-out patient scenarios. They're taking high-tech learning to a new level!

Many medical workers wear goggles now during the pandemic, but a different kind are benefiting nursing students at the University of St. Thomas. They're virtual reality headsets, taking students into a new world of hands-on learning with virtual patients.


"This is just another way that we can provide them with something that's close to real life as possible, but without the fear of mistakes causing harm," explains Dr. Claudine Dufrene, the Dean of Undergraduate Programs in the School of Nursing at the University of St. Thomas.

This virtual experience offers conversations through speech recognition and artificial intelligence.

"They've developed these scenarios, particularly one for mental health training and one in pediatrics that take place in the emergency department where we see a lot of activity in those populations. It helps the students to be able to experience things they probably will never see during their clinical rotations," says Dr. Dufrene.

The mixed-reality devices allow time for students to react and engage in realistic conversations, all while instructors monitor their reactions from a remote location.

"There are no actors answering for them or having to press a button and answer through a microphone and those kinds of things. It is that's how sophisticated this technology is," states Dr. Dufrene.

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Students often practice their skills using mannequins in a simulation lab, but this new experience takes them to a new level of learning.

"This is a different level because the students can actually interact with real-time responses that are not just a yes or no. The programming is just so sophisticated that they can ask questions and it will just catch certain words to be able to provide answers in real-time and help the students to lead them to the next question where they can develop their therapeutic communication skills," says Dr. Dufrene.

This new way of learning is expected to help train students much faster than usual, plus it's much safer than practicing on real patients as well.


"We can hear about it all we want, but if you've not practiced it in that simulated session setting where it's safe, if I make a mistake, and I can reflect back on it. I have that memory and I can tell you that students who make errors in simulation, it will never leave them. They will always remember that. So it only helps to improve our understanding and anything that can help us with communication because that is so vital to everything we do as a nurse," states Dr. Dufrene.

Right now, their advanced nursing students on their north campus are experimenting with the technology.

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