First-year PA Medicine student Adriane Strawn ’24 MPAM had never experienced virtual reality before she enrolled in the Master of PA Medicine program at the University of Lynchburg. Since her first month on campus, however, she and other students in her cohort have been using VR simulations to learn how to treat their future patients.
“Without the use of our VR program, we would not be able to have a lot of these experiences until our clinical year, which is the year after we … start the program,” Strawn said. “Since it’s a simulation, [we’re] able to speed up the effects of providing medical treatments, so we get to see the outcome faster and note whether our treatment is actually helping the patient or not.”
Lynchburg’s PA Medicine faculty integrated VR into the curriculum this fall. They partnered with Oxford Medical Simulation, a company that provides VR medical scenarios, and purchased three pairs of Oculus goggles through a 2021 University of Lynchburg Teaching and Learning Center Innovative Grant.
“Other top-ranking PA programs are implementing this innovative technology into their medical curriculum,” said Dr. Jenna Rolfs ’20 DMSC, associate dean of Lynchburg’s College of Medical Science. “Lynchburg continues to be innovative and progressive in its curriculum to remain current with the practice of medicine for our future health care providers.”
She added that VR “allows for standardized clinical training that promotes critical thinking and lifelong learning, while allowing PA students to foster and develop their decision-making, clinical reasoning, and communication skills.”
Lynchburg’s PA Medicine students are using VR in their Critical Thinking in Medicine course, which is taught during the first, or didactic, year. Each Tuesday, students are assigned a medical simulation scenario, which they can complete on their own or in the program’s VR room, located in the Graduate Health Sciences building.
“When we were in our dermatology section, we were assigned both an outpatient and inpatient case that involved the skin that helped us to apply the knowledge that we had just learned,” Strawn said.
“From the time that a case starts to when it ends … I act as the medical provider. I’m able to take my patient’s history, do a physical exam, order and interpret tests and imaging, make a diagnosis, and treat the virtual patient as if I was actually in the room with a real patient.
“This is exactly what we’ll be doing as PAs after we graduate, so this is an incredibly valuable experience that helps to solidify everything we’ve been learning and to apply it early on in our education.”
Once the simulation is complete, faculty evaluate the student. “The scenarios are set up so students are able to repeat the simulation experience and identify areas of improvement through individualized feedback that is generated based on their individual performance,” Rolfs said.
“By being immersed in an interactive virtual environment, PA students can use virtual reality to train in a ‘real-life’ scenario by treating a patient in settings such as an emergency room or even training in the cadaver lab.”