Daniel Young, MD

Remote Virtual Reality Teaching: Closing an Educational Gap during a Global Pandemic

Daniel Young, MD; Francis J. Real, MD, MEd; Rashmi D. Sahay, MD, MS; Matthew Zackoff MD, MEd

Students rated remote VR as more effective than reading and online learning, but less effective than bedside teaching.

-Daniel Young, MD


Background: Resident physicians are expected to recognize patients requiring escalation of care on day one of residency, as outlined by the Association of American Medical Colleges. Respiratory failure due to bronchiolitis is a common presentation of a pediatric patient requiring escalation of care. Opportunities for medical students to assess patients at the bedside or through traditional simulation-based medical education have drastically decreased due to COVID-19 restrictions, including a decrease in patients being hospitalized due to bronchiolitis.

Objective: Remote Virtual Reality (VR), an immersive form of simulation based medical education delivered via video teleconferencing may address this educational gap by allowing students to assess hospitalized pediatric patients with respiratory distress. Our objective is to assess medical students’ attitudes towards remote VR learning as compared to traditional educational modalities.

Methods: A prospective pilot study targeting third-year pediatric clerkship students at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital was conducted from April-December 2020. Groups of 6-15 students participated in a 1.5-hour ZoomTM session with a physician facilitator donning an OculusRiftTM headset and screen sharing interactive VR cases of a hospitalized infant with respiratory distress. Students completed surveys assessing the immersion and tolerability of the virtual experience and reported its perceived effectiveness as compared to traditional educational modalities.

Results: Participants included third-year medical students on their pediatric clerkship. 140 students participated in the sessions with 63% completing the survey. A majority of students reported the VR captured their attention (78.4%) with minimal side effects. Students reported remote VR training as more effective (p < .0001) than reading and online learning and equally or more effective (p < .0001) than didactic teaching. Most students (79.6%) rated remote VR as less effective than bedside teaching.

Conclusion: This pilot demonstrates the feasibility of remote VR for group-based clinical training – addressing a key experience gap while navigating COVID-19 limitations on training. Students preferred remote VR to the primary distanced learning options available – reading, online learning, and didactics. Future aims include assessing the impact of remote VR training on clinical performance of students assessing patients with respiratory distress.