Virtual reality simulation becomes important tool for NWTC’s nursing program

Published: Aug. 18, 2021 at 4:47 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 18, 2021 at 8:37 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A field already taxed heavily by the pandemic is stretched even more thin by the continuous demand for more health care workers.

While COVID-19 changed a lot of things for students, health educators at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) knew they couldn’t let it delay a student’s progress, so they quickly came up with a virtual reality solution to keep nursing students on track.

“We did not have the opportunity for students to attend clinicals at hospitals or any clinical agencies so we needed to try and figure out how we can get students through and graduate,” said Brian Krogh, Associate Dean of Health Sciences at NWTC.

Within a week, virtual reality simulations became the heart of learning.

“We were able to get students to use some virtual reality simulations to replace clinical and luckily the Board of Nursing also got an emergency exception to allow us to do 100% of simulation, instead of being in clinical sites,” said Krogh. “We’re lucky that many students did have hands-on clinicals prior to that that experience so flipping to a virtual clinical wasn’t as difficult for those students to complete and graduate.”

Mitch Luker, Coordinator of Nursing Simulation at NWTC, said the lack of clinical sites is the biggest challenge to its wait list right now.

“When we have students come in, we have faculty and are ready to teach them but then where do we send them to clinical?” said Luker. “So, getting to a clinical site where we can go and take care of patients can be challenging.”

However, virtual reality simulations may help with getting more nurses through the program.

“When you can only send so many students to clinical, what do you do with everybody else? We don’t want to hold them up so this is a way that we can hopefully graduate more nurses,” said Luker.

Luker has been tasked with developing a virtual reality simulation that can add to NWTC’s training program.

“What we’re really working on is how do we make sure that our virtual reality and our simulations here on campus are as robust and as impactful as possible so that way we can rely less on our clinical sites, but still produce quality nurses for our program,” said Luker.

Thanks to a new grant from the Department of Education, Luker is creating a total of 25 virtual reality simulations that can be shared between multiple technical colleges.

“Then what we’ll start doing with this is, then we can start utilizing this in classrooms and we can either do fully virtual reality which means with the headset fully immersive, or we can do desktop tutorials,” said Luker. “One we have been working on is our long-term care one.”

Luker said this isn’t meant to replace hands-on experience as students still have low and high-fidelity simulations, but it will add to a student’s education.

“We’re really trying to give students a way to see things they could never see before,” said Luker. “We figured it out in the moment, and we kept moving so we actually had no student that could not continue advancing their education because of the pandemic.”

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