COVID-19 One Year Later: How the Pandemic Has Forever Changed Us

COVID-19 One Year Later: How the Pandemic Has Forever Changed Us

It has been more than year since we first heard of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, aka COVID-19 and it’s an understatement to say many things have changed.

One of the biggest is training moved almost entirely online. The shift to online learning and physical distancing practices will have a long-term impact on how we educate EMS workers, nurses, and other health care providers.

Tracy Chesney, simulation coordinator at Brookline College in Phoenix, AZ was able to adjust her training quickly. Back in 2018, she created the first virtual immersive reality lab in the state of Arizona, so she was more prepared than others to move everything online.

She uses several tools including VRpatients, an immersive VR training tool which allows users to create cases giving students real life training without real life consequences.

“When everything went virtual, one thing I really liked about an option that VRpatients gave us was we were able to do a hyperlink so our students could continue to work on their cases in VRpatients from their own computers,” Chesney says.

Chesney’s students could also continue to train together using a platform like Zoom along with VRpatients by having an instructor share their screen.

“They could run the case together and have the students work through the scenario. The scenario was 15 minutes so they could repeat it as many times as they wanted and with the link, they could go back and repeat that case.”

Training of medical professionals will never be the same again.


Balancing Risks vs Rewards

All students and educators have been doing a delicate balancing act for the past year.

The students desire a completion of their training in hopes of gaining employment while the educators are making changes to tried and true teaching methods. 

Chesney says virtual immersive reality is very different than a 2D environment, but both have benefits in helping develop critical judgement skills.

“My students can go in and within 15 minutes they can make a mistake on an avatar and watch that outcome play out. Then they can immediately go back in and do the exact same experience and make the correct decision and they will never forget that mistake for the rest of their life.”

Training budgets have taken a hit and because of social distancing requirements, in-person trainings have had to be smaller which can often mean a higher cost per student. Computer-based training can fill a gap.

“If they harmed an avatar, it didn’t cost me any additional supplies or setup time or anything. In 30 minutes flat, a student can learn from their error and apply it to the rest of their career. That is the most significant difference that that I have found virtual immersive reality can do,” Chesney explains.


Must Have In-Person Elements

In medical fields, lives can be lost if someone doesn’t learn something properly, so the stakes are very high to adapt training to the new normal of physical distancing, masks, PPE, and more.

Chesney says an entire class of students is about to graduate without ever having touched a real patient or having very limited contact.

High quality simulations and virtual tools like VRpatients have helped her fill some of the gaps.

“We have now been able to put them in a hospital environment interacting with an avatar and it’s as close to touching a patient as they could possibly get and they think that is the most amazing thing in the whole world,” Chesney explains.

But there are simply some parts of EMS and nursing training that just can’t be done remotely.

“It will never replace taking care of an actual patient, but it can prepare students to be safer before they take care of that patient. It’s just like we don’t allow a pilot to fly a plane until they’ve got so many hours of training so that they don’t crash the plane.”

Chesney says virtual learning has had a hidden benefit in the fact students learn to rely on their own decision-making skills instead of looking to others for guidance or validation.

“The person that they’re going against is themselves so the only person that they can count on is the knowledge they have and the understanding they have. In any other part of education, another classmate could speak up so you benefit from each other’s knowledge. But when you’re in the headset or in your own computer at home, there is nowhere else you can go. You really need to understand what you are doing.”

Many licensing and credentialing agencies require clinical rotations or a minimum number of ride along hours.

Fulfilling these requirements has become a problem since many hospitals and other sites stopped accepting students for clinical rotations. Many EMS departments stopped allowing trainees to accompany them on calls.

“We need to still work with patients. There’s a lack of context in not being able to see the full interactions that happen in in a healthcare environment. That technology doesn’t exist just yet,” Chesney says.

Before the pandemic, about 30% of Brookline’s clinical training was done in a simulated environment. That has since shifted to 100%.

For the students who will graduate without any in-person experience, Chesney says healthcare facilities are aware of this and are adjusting their onboarding processes.

“Instead of being like a six week orientation it may be a six month orientation that they’re partnered up with another nurse so that they get that mentorship that needs to happen. Some of them are calling it a nurse residency.”


Some Changes Might Be Permanent

As we begin to emerge from the depths of the pandemic, we’re starting to see how many things have really changed.

It’s too early to tell exactly which changes will be permanent, but certainly some online and virtual elements of EMS and nursing training are here to stay. 

“That’s actually what my PhD is on, showing the science of not only what this is going to do for nursing education, but how it can help transition our nurses into practice more efficiently,” she says. “My hope is within four years to be able to show how simulation training will impact patient outcomes.” 

But she predicts after the pandemic, students will go back to learning in person in clinical settings.

“I don’t think that they’re going to throw out virtual reality. I think that it’s going to become a hybrid experience.”

Chesney says in some ways, the pandemic gave nursing training a kick it needed. 

“All of a sudden simulation became front and center and people said, ‘wow’ you guys really do some pretty amazing stuff.”

When you’re ready to look for a VR solution to your training needs, look no further than VRpatients.

As an industry leader navigating the remote learning world, the people at VRpatients know you are always looking to optimize your educational toolset. VRpatients increases knowledge retention and builds stress inoculation, all for a fraction of the price of traditional sim training.

Contact us to schedule a demo or to learn more about how VRpatients can help you get the most out of your precious training dollars.