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Boosting midwifery education in a virtual world

University of Newcastle lecturer Jessica Williams
Photo: University of Newcastle lecturer Jessica Williams with a midwifery student
Midwifery students are using virtual reality to study neonatal resuscitation.

In a learning environment that sits between the classroom and real life, second year midwifery students at the University of Newcastle (UON) are the first in the world to explore emergency neonatal resuscitation in a virtual scenario.

In a collaboration between the School of Nursing and Midwifery and the university’s Innovation Team, students are using Samsung GearVR headsets coupled with a smartphone app.

The cutting-edge technology transports students into a virtual birthing room where they are confronted with a time-critical resuscitation scenario in either a practice or test mode.

Midwifery lecturer and co-project leader Jessica Williams, a former Maitland Hospital nurse and midwife, says the technology places students in a simulated real-world environment with an ill baby, its family, hospital staff, and medical equipment.
“Everything that you see in the scenario is comparative to the real world environment, so everything is in the correct proportions, things are in the correct locations, the right equipment is there,” she says.

“We wanted to try and mimic the sort of real life experience that students would actually be confronted with out on their placements.”

In the virtual reality scenario, midwifery students must first prepare for the birth of the baby before moving through a series of stages and using elements, such as the Apgar score and the ISBAR framework.

“It starts with getting everything they need set up on the trolley. When the baby is born, it just appears on the trolley,” she says.

“You can tell straight away from looking at it, that it’s not doing so good - it’s colouring is really poor and it’s not moving and it’s just laying there.

“So then students have to progress through the steps that we would do in the real world environment - calling for help and interacting with other health professionals as they come into the room, setting up the right equipment, and putting an oxygen mask on.

“It reaches a stage in the scenario where they have to progress to doing CPR, and eventually they do manage to save the baby once they’ve gone through all of the steps that are necessary.”

With figures showing 15 per cent of births in Australia and New Zealand require resuscitation, Ms Williams says the technology is designed to help students feel comfortable and confident in applying their skills in an emergency environment.

“What we do know from the evidence is that when health practitioners are stressed in emergency medical situations, their reaction time is slower, they are more likely to make mistakes, and they therefore put patient safety at risk,” she says.

“So if this is one method that can help improve confidence and lower stress and really cement some of those important principles, that will be enormously beneficial.”

For her PhD, Ms Williams is conducting a trial to understand whether multiple methods of learning, including hands-on practical learning plus virtual reality practice, will improve midwifery students’ competence in neonatal resuscitation.

“We are going to be using some biometric sensor equipment that students will wear and it’s going to monitor their heart rate and their rest rate and their skin temperature, and all of those physiological markers that can’t be falsified.

“We’re hoping that if students are reporting better confidence by having access to multiple ways of learning about neonatal resuscitation, that they’ll also demonstrate lower levels of stress
when they are actually practising that out in the real world.”

The university is exploring a range of other scenarios for virtual reality learning for students, and is also investigating partnerships for the trial and use of the technology in the clinical environment.

Ms Williams says incorporating virtual reality into the classroom, as an addition to and not a replacement for hands-on practice, is the way of the future.

“It’s being able to have these blended learning environments where students get a mix of learning methods - face to face, hands on, and utilising technology,” she says.

“It also means that it appeals to people who have different styles and ways of learning. It gives a whole other dimension to learning, and I think that in 10 years’ time this is going to be something used across all universities - using virtual reality in some form when it comes to teaching and learning, particularly in the clinical types of degrees.

“The possibilities are endless with what you can really create and mimic using virtual reality.”

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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords