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National University launches virtual reality nursing program

Students practice their skills in a simulated environment without putting themselves and patients at risk for COVID-19.

SAN DIEGO — A typical day as a nursing student includes working on-campus with hands-on training, surrounded by peers and patients, but just like everything else, COVID-19 has put that on hold. Now National University is allowing students to get vital experience from the comfort of home using new technology. 

"I think this is the future of nursing education," said Dr. Gloria McNeal, associate vice president for community affairs in health at National University.

It's all part of a new virtual reality training program that allows students to practice in a simulated environment without putting students and patients at risk.

"You can make mistakes and it's okay cause no one gets hurt," Dr. McNeal said. 

National University is one of just five schools nationwide to receive grant funding. Las Patronas, a philanthropic organization in San Diego County, awarded the program nearly $50,000 to purchase 70 virtual reality headsets that can turn a classroom into an emergency room, and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors also awarded $25,000 to cover the cost of software and programming for the headsets. 

"You can listen to heart sounds you can listen to lung sounds you can change a dressing you can give an injection," she said. 

While the headsets are being reserved for when they return to class, 50 students have already been able to complete the virtual training using their laptops. 

The course focuses on community outreach, and uses an avatar to respond to real life situations. Dr. McNeal says there's a learning curve that comes with this new technology, but it's just the beginning of advancements to come in modern medicine.

"I'm excited for what the future will bring. And allow students to enter the workforce well prepared for their role as professional nurses," said Dr. McNeal. 

The simulated training is now being offered to eight cohorts of students that will total 80 students by the end of the grant period in 2022.  National University says it plans to continue the virtual reality program even after the grant runs out.

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