Giving Education A Second Life

Wolverine Clinic ResizedOne of the many great things about Second Life is how various organizations can utilize this platform for much more than socialization and virtual sex. Case in point: The University of Michigan School of Nursing announces that it is using Second Life to help medical students hone their leadership and communication skills, and to do so with some degree of anonymity.

According to this article on the HealthLeader Media’s website, “telemedicine isn’t just a cost-saving way to treat patients in remote locations. It’s also another way to train medical professionals.”

Medical schools are adding programs that emphasize teaching empathy and observational schools, and some use technology as a way to enhance the learning experience.

The University of Michigan School of Nursing has a virtual clinic in Second Life called the Wolverine Clinic. Medical students can log in with their own avatars and work through various scenarios at this clinic.

There is a slideshow of photos take at the clinic here. The avatars need work, but that isn’t the point of being in-world. The point is to develop realistic diagnostic situations to allow nursing and medical students to utilize skills in both diagnostic and problem-solving in a virtual environment. This simulation allows real life scenarios to unfold using roleplaying, and if a mistake is made, then no one is hurt.

A small grant was used to build the virtual clinic and is the brainchild of Michelle Aebersold, PhD, RN, a Clinical Assistant Professor at the UMSN and her colleague, Dana Tschannen, PhD, RN, a Clinical Associate Professor of the Division of Systems Leadership and Effectiveness Science at UMSN. Aebersold, also the Director of the Clinical Learning Center for the UMSN, started the program with nurses, and saw that training in Second Life had great advantages.

The clinic offers virtual acute care and outpatient environments where the students perform their trainings. “The nice thing about the virtual environment is that we can schedule training in there and students don’t have to be on site, they could log in from home,” says Aebersold.

In addition, in a virtual environment and role-playing situation, students can be exposed to scenarios that they might not typically experience. The scenarios can be as extreme as someone coming in to a clinic with a ball peen hammer stuck in their forehead, or other just as rare situations. “That’s critical in training a very safe practitioner,” states Patricia Abbott, PhD, RN, FAAN, who is an Associate Professor of the Division of Systems Leadership and Effectiveness Science at UMSN.

The virtual training environment allows students to be able to step out of the classroom and into hands-on training and experience, all within the safety of a controlled environment. These training focus more on interacting with patients and fellow health-care professionals, rather than the physical aspect of care. Students learn a lot about communication, which can be key in RL medical situations.

Aebersold points out, “If you want to teach nursing students how to delegate, how to practice their leadership skills, how to respond to an emergency situation and direct their team members, it’s a great learning environment.”

One example of an exercise in this virtual clinic is described as having the students assess a virtual patient by clicking on an object to view a notecard with the patient’s information. The students are then given choices on how to proceed, and how to communicate virtually with one another to determine how to prioritize care and assign tasks.

Doctoral studets in the DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) program also use the Second Life virtual hospital for interprofessional education.

This virtual project enabled nursing students, pharmacy students, and medical students to work together to run a role-play simulation based on disclosing a medical error to a patient.

Using TeamSTEPPS, an AHRQ (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a US Department of Health and Human Services agency advancing excellence in health care) program that specializes in interprofessional communication, the students learn teamwork and communication skills, then utilize their avatars to engage in a scenario to practice those skills.

This is how the role-play scenario is played out. The facilitator of the simulation plays the patient and their family. The nursing, pharmacy, and medical students play their respective roles. They receive a notecard with the information and then get together as a team to discuss the medical error, and how they will communicate it to the patient and the family.

Students who participated in this RP gave positive feedback to the exercise. “They seemed very satisfied with being able to do this, to role play this kind of disclosure,” said Aebersold. You can only imagine how difficult this scenario would be in RL, and being able to RP it would certainly give these students some skills to be able to work as a team to deliver such news.

As many have experienced in SL, the ability to role-play situations like these from behind an avatar is easier, there is a sense of anonymity. As Aebersold says, “There’s a sense of having a little bit of protection because I’m not putting myself out there. I’m not so vulnerable, so I’m willing to take more of a risk.” This is something every Second Life resident can attest to, in every day situations to RP situations.

At the end of the training, students are evaluated in different ways. One method has a separate observer use their avatar to watch the students’ behavior and scores them based on a standardized observation tool used to measure performance. Peer-to-peer feedback is another way to gauge performance.

Aebersold is taking the virtual platform to another level. She would like to develop a gaming type environment that would eliminate the need for a facilitator and give students the chance to receive independent or automated feedback.

Recent additions to the SL clinic include an electronic health records system run by Abbott. Using a training program similar to the patient disclosure exercises, interdisciplinary teams consisting of nurses, doctors, and pharmacy students come together to treat an avatar run by another student. The EHR at the patient’s bedside acts as the fourth professional in the team-building exercise. The purpose is to evaluate how the EHR affects team care, something that Abbott feels is not well understood in the healthcare industry.

All in all, the purpose of the virtual learning environment is to help students have a better learning experience, and to come out at the end of the training better prepared to handle today’s healthcare environment.

Please see the article in its entirety here.

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