Minister Naughton launches free virtual reality simulation for nursing education

Photo - Government Chief Whip and Minister of State for Public Health and Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy Hildegarde Naughton T.D. at the launch of a virtual reality (VR) learning system for nursing education, pioneered by University of Galway. Credit Martina Regan.
Dec 06 2023 Posted: 10:28 GMT

University of Galway pioneers new, immersive approach to learning for students and educators 


Government Chief Whip and Minister of State for Public Health and Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy Hildegarde Naughton T.D. has launched a virtual reality (VR) learning system for nursing education, pioneered by University of Galway. 

Funded through the ERASMUS+ programme, the ViReTrain project offers nursing students and educators immersive eLearning experiences, preparing them for the complex demands of healthcare delivery. With a focus on authentic, complex scenarios in virtual reality, the project is an innovative teaching strategy for academics and faculty working in nursing education.

ViReTrain is unique in the emerging field of VR technology in the education of health professionals with the technology and VR scenarios being made available free of charge to nurse educators and their students.

ViReTrain draws on expertise of researchers in a European higher education partnership - University of Galway; FH Muenster in Germany; Via University College in Aarhus, Denmark; and the University of Turku in Finland, who partnered with a software company, Ingenious Knowledge GmbH (Germany).

ViReTrain's virtual reality simulations mirror nursing care in practice, where students can practice clinical skills, use the nursing process, employ critical thinking skills, make informed decisions, and take actions that address individual patient needs. Each scenario is tied to specific learning outcomes, encompassing both technical and non-technical skills. 

Government Chief Whip and Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton said: "The ViReTrain virtual reality education for nurses is a remarkable step towards the future of healthcare education. By combining cutting-edge technology with a commitment to excellence, this project ensures that nurses will be even better prepared to deliver high-quality, safe and exceptional care to patients. Adopting this type of technology and opportunity for learning is both innovative and accessible and aligns with our commitment to improving healthcare standards and fostering international collaboration, further advancing our nation's healthcare system." 

Professor Martin O’Donnell, Executive Dean of the College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Science at University of Galway, said: "By immersing students in authentic, complex scenarios ViReTrain cultivates critical thinking, decision-making, and technical expertise crucial for delivering patient-centered care. This innovative initiative not only enhances the quality of clinical nursing education but also underscores our commitment to fostering international collaboration and advancing healthcare standards. We are proud to lead this ground-breaking effort and make this transformative learning experience freely accessible to nursing educators and students, furthering our dedication to excellence in healthcare education.”

Dr Siobhan Smyth, Principal Investigator and a lecturer in the School of Nursing and Midwifery, said: “ViReTrain empowers students and educators with an innovative, accessible and immersive learning tool. In this European project, we developed complex, authentic VR scenarios and modules, providing nurse educators with an educational framework and the software required to introduce VR simulation into their curricula. The project offers students the opportunity to acquire nursing skills in a safe and interactive environment that complements existing learning strategies.”

Trish Galvin, Advanced Nurse Practitioner in Stroke at University Hospital Galway, which forms part of the Saolta University Health Care Group said: “It’s amazing to see where stroke medicine has come over the last number of years in terms of acute interventions, improvements in outcome for patients in terms of mortality and morbidity. Today it has now entered the world of virtual reality,  and to see nursing at the forefront is fantastic because the role of the nurse is central to patients journeys on the stroke pathway.”

What is the virtual reality learning system for nursing educators?

The Virtual Reality scenarios have been crafted by project researchers, offering nursing students invaluable experiential learning opportunities and helping them to prepare for the multifaceted challenges they will encounter in clinical practice.

How does the VR simulation work?

Students don a VR headset and hold VR hand controllers to enter a virtual clinical ward. Here, they meet a VR patient and are tasked with providing nursing care within the context of the VR scenario. Similar to physical, and in-person simulation, a VR simulation includes a pre-briefing and a debriefing to maximise the learning experience.

What is the role of the nursing student?

Students assume the role of a newly qualified nurse, providing care to an individual patient. The patient's personal and clinical situation evolves, and the student's decisions influence responses by the patient and other staff members, as well as the patient's condition.


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