How to Set Up Your Own VR Lab – Getting Buy-In
(Part 1 of 3)

You know you want to incorporate VR into your training, but where do you start?

We asked two experts who have set up VR labs of their own using VRpatients software and consulted about setting up other labs around the country:

Tracey Chesney Tracy Chesney, PhD(c), MSN-Ed, RN, CNE, CHSE, CHSOS, Nursing SME & Product Supervisor for VRpatients and the Vice-Chair of the Virtual Simulation Committee with the International Nursing Association in Clinical Simulation in Learning (INACSL).
Devin Marble Devin Marble, B.S., NRP, Educator for Immersive Technologies at VRpatients.


Regardless of whether you’re setting up a lab for EMS or nursing, the first major thing they both recommend is assembling your team, and that means more than just sending an email. 

“The first thing you should do is get your administration on board,” Chesney says. “There’s going to be a cost issue so it’s putting together an entire proposal that says if we spend X amount of dollars on a virtual reality lab, we have the opportunity to save X dollars on training.”

Marble says getting a VR headset and allowing someone to experience virtual reality is crucial.

“Set yourself up to demonstrate. You should be able to demonstrate the minimum goal of what you’re trying to accomplish,” he says. “Start with one headset and get a software demo on it to show the administration.”

Marble says having something for them to see is the key. 

“To buy all of this fancy hardware is one thing, but if nobody can put it on and actually try it and test the thing that you’re saying is worth building at your institution, you’re not going to get the funding.”

It’s easy to request a demo of VRpatients through the website to give you something to show decision-makers. 


Involve Other Academic Departments

Virtual reality isn’t just for one department. Even if you’re trying to set up a lab for VRpatients, other departments might be able to utilize the hardware lab space and that means getting representatives from other departments involved.

“If a school has a nursing program, an EMS program, a military program, or anatomy and physiology as part of their curriculum, or even computer science, that goes into the whole proposal you’re putting together and that’s where the whole curriculum committee needs to come in,” Chesney says. 

She also suggests forming a simulation team with anyone who would benefit from using virtual reality.

“You could make that lab work all day long. You can really look at what has to be hands-on versus what can be done in the virtual world,” she says. “It’s amazing the things that you can do inside VR, like seeing inside the human heart and actually seeing the valves pumping and the structures. It’s amazing what can be done in the VR world that you just can’t do in the physical world.”

“It will also help your project to think about how VR in general might benefit other departments, even if they are not medically related,” said Marble. “Adopting VR at an institution is not just about making the allied health programs look good. It is about bringing the institution and students into the training of the future. Investing in hardware owned by the institution means you can load any software on it, and use this technology to collaborate across departments. If you take that tone, you will win with your administrators” he added.

A curriculum committee can figure out all of the ways to utilize the lab and search for appropriate products. Encourage the committee to think outside the box, too. Chesney suggests wellness apps, such as meditation, can be downloaded in VR and leveraged as a way to address student and faculty needs holistically.


Get the IT Department Involved Early

Your IT department is used to buying computers for regular student and faculty use throughout your institution, but the computers you will need for virtual reality labs are probably different.

“It’s important to talk to the (VR software) vendor and ask about the minimum specs needed on a computer to support it. It has to be able to handle the visuals that you need at a gaming level,” Chesney says. “We found the regular computers students use would get a blue screen when the case was trying to load and would take forever.”

“What you need to do is start with what problem you’re trying to solve, what class you’re trying to teach, then find the software and ask the software developers what hardware they support, then purchase the hardware,” Marble says, adding he prevented one community college from buying $80,000 worth of another product that did not support the augmented reality software the college thought it would. 

The IT department will also need to address any Wifi issues you might have and make sure you have enough speed to handle what your lab will do.

“What seems to work best is to have your IT department set up a Wifi (VPN) just for your wireless VR headsets. It will save you days of work troubleshooting connection issues while students are waiting to train. Plan ahead!” added Marble.


Involve the Facilities Department

The facilities department helps you set up and wire the space, and needs to be involved in selecting floor coverings, cooling equipment, and more. Wiring also needs to come from the ceiling to avoid tripping hazards. 

“Your students are going to spin around and turn, and they’re going to get wrapped up in their own cord and you don’t want anyone to trip,” Marble says. “You can’t build something on a college campus and have trip hazards, and you don’t want to get shut down by facilities. It sounds like a simple request, but the facilities department never wants to attach anything over people’s heads. Before I even asked them, I showed them the demo. Facilities immediately saw the value for student learning and when I eventually asked for the favor, they were already on board.”

Chesney also recommends using small or folding chairs to minimize the amount of space they take up in each station.

“You definitely want a chair for each participant and to make sure the chairs are out of the way. In the first lab, we had big, cushy chairs and they really got in the way.”


Involve Financial Decision Makers

Nobody wants to spend money on technology and have it become obsolete a few months later, so both Marble and Chesney recommend researching the release schedule for new versions of hardware and software. 

“CFOs want technology to at least last through a depreciation schedule that they’re going to get as a capital expenditure, so they’re going to want it to last at least a good two to three years or four if they can get it.”

“I have had to pitch to get funding for VR setups many times before, once directly to the board of governors for a higher-ed institution. I always got funding and I never used slides. How? I demoed the product live, in front of them, and put a few stakeholders in VR right then and there,” recalled Marble. “As you can see, buying a single headset and loading it with demos early on is worth a lot more than $300. That year the institution invested just under $75,000 in VR hardware which is actively being used by students to improve success metrics. Now, the other departments at the college are leaning in to learn from their win. The only thing holding your institution back from having 50 headsets in a full VR studio, is having one to demo.” 

Programs like VRpatients come with updates included, so you don’t have to buy a whole new version when new features are introduced. 

If you want more information about VRpatients, talk to our experts and request a demo.