Virtual reality as a resource for teaching in Health Sciences


Virtual reality (VR) is becoming a first-rate resource for teaching and the teaching and learning process, being used successfully in numerous fields.

This is the case of medical training, the progressive introduction of VR to regulated teaching in Health Sciences shows that it is an ideal technology. The benefits it brings are so varied that they have little comparison with other technologies introduced throughout history.

An irreversible change

VR is a synthetic environment, generated by computer graphics, that emulates a real scenario creating an immersive sensation. In this context, we must highlight the concept of “immersion”, which refers to the subjective sensation of immersing oneself in a 3D environment and with spherical vision (360 degrees).

This perceptive capacity is obtained through the use of viewers attached to the user (VR goggles) or by using user-managed devices that show us the environment depending on where we point the device (as a window or porthole). This virtual environment can be developed on computers, tablets or smartphones, the latter being the most affordable and universal solution.

Mobile technologies have irreversibly changed politics, business or medicine. They have been positioned to influence teaching and learning due to their ease of use and portability. With the combination of students’ phones, VR glasses and specific applications, the learning process can be carried out at any time and place, through both face-to-face and online interaction methods. It is accessible, immediate, interactive and context independent.

Experiential learning in Medicine

VR allows you to recreate and explore different environments, whether real or fictional. Within the established curriculum of our educational system, there are many areas where VR can be integrated.

Specifically, in Medicine studies there is a tendency to abandon rote study for a more relevant and practical teaching from the clinical point of view. Problem-based learning, communication skills training, and simulation-based learning are making their way into curricula.

With the intention of providing clinical learning experiences, and due to the inherent difficulties in doing so, simulation, understood as the recreation of a clinical event or the training of a technique in the most reliable way possible, has gained momentum as a method of teaching experiential learning.

Simulation as a star technique

Simulation is an educational technique where the learner acts as they would in real life and then provides feedback and performance feedback. Simulation is effective in many domains and has been found to be “superior to traditional clinical education in producing powerful educational interventions that produce immediate and lasting results.”

VR provides a space where students can interact without the limitations and obstacles of the real and physical world. It allows observation and examination of areas and events unavailable by other means.

It is necessary to train medical personnel with high-demand skills, as there is an increasing complexity and variety of tasks in medical processes. Medicine is a profession sensitive to technological advances that facilitate the work of professionals, reducing waiting lists and human error.

Therefore, specialists, residents and even students need to update their skills for the different health procedures that appear every day.

VR and immersive technology allow the creation of ideal scenarios on which to interact, learn or train the use of new technologies in controlled and supervised environments. They allow self-assessing the goodness of performing the task, so that when moving on to in vivo situations , one is trained for its implementation.

Prospective Virtual Reality in pandemic

With the incidence of the pandemic, a change in the approach to education at a global level is imposed. We do not know the full scope at this time, but we must consider possible scenarios and prepare for future challenges .

Medicine is a profession that requires training in the human act and physical contact for its practice, so, as a result of health safety regulations, it has had to limit, or even eliminate, the access of students of the degree of Medicine to practical activities carried out in hospitals, health centers or the faculty itself (practice rooms, shared laboratories, etc.).

In this context, VR can become an ally, aligning itself with the curricula of the Medicine degree and incorporating immersive digital technologies that help minimize the effect of distancing and the lack of contact between teacher and student, as well as with their closeness. or interaction with the patient during the degree training stage.

To do this, the use of digital resources, media and methodologies will help Health Sciences teachers to incorporate “presentiality” in health centers, health centers or faculty classrooms, without the need for students to be physically present. VR is positioned as a teaching reality present in a very short time.

Author Bios: Pedro Luis Castro Alonso is Professor of Cellular Biology and Miguel Angel Rodriguez-Florido is Technical Coordinator of the Chair of Medical Technologies of the ULPGC both at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria