Virtual reality platform helps UWF nursing students step into real-life scenarios

University of West Florida Usha Kundu, MD College of Health School of Nursing students graduating this semester will be among the first who had practice stepping into real-life scenarios during their entire academic career.

In Fall 2021, UWF's School of Nursing started the process of acquiring UbiSim with funding provided by a high-impact grant. The grant was used to purchase a subscription of the virtual reality platform with unlimited usage and covered the cost of five Oculus headsets.

When we first received UbiSim, it was during the COVID-19 pandemic and it was very helpful because it was when our students weren't in the hospital. It provides them with an immersive environment."

Dr. Tina Barbour-Taylor, Lecturer in UWF's School of Nursing

The platform allows students to focus on specific interests, like heart disease or kidney disease and during participation, students are inside a patient room virtually as if they were in a hospital room, with oxygen bags and IV pumps to monitor.

A systemic grant, following the initial high-impact practice grant, allowed the School of Nursing to acquire 41 additional headsets in Spring 2022. School of Nursing staff also partnered with the John C. Pace Library on campus so that students in the nursing program could check out the equipment to use on their own time.

"We're bridging theory to practice and students really enjoy it because it makes it fun to learn," Barbour-Taylor said. "It develops critical thinking and prioritization skills, and that's the most important thing."

With UbiSim, students can experience critical situations that they might not encounter during their clinicals at a hospital.

"This allows students to explore their weaknesses," said Dr. Jill Van Der Like, director, Nursing Skills & Simulation Learning Center. "It opens up clinical opportunities and experiential learning experiences."

Van Der Like says 30% of nurses are leaving within a year of their first job and she believes this competency-based learning opportunity can help students feel more confident in the workplace.

"If talking in public makes you nervous, you have to practice, you have to get good at it, just like nursing; you have to practice, because you have to deliver," Van Der Like said.

Wyatt Adams, who will graduate in May and has accepted a nurse position at Baptist Hospital in Pensacola, said UbiSim has helped him put into practice what he learned in the classroom and has prepared him for situations he will encounter in the future.

"It's unique because you can do what you can't do in the hospital, which is make situations happen," Adams said. "It really helped me in knowing when to ask questions. I've never been someone to ask too many questions and now I feel like I know when to ask for help. It helped with the teamwork aspect of nursing."

The platform has also provided an opportunity for local high school students to see the innovative technology that UWF has to offer. So far, five high schools have visited the lab. Van Der Like says they are thankful the technology has opened new opportunities for the School of Nursing to connect with the community in such exciting and meaningful ways.

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