A twenty-something woman in scrubs stands alone and articulates her hands in terse, repetitive motions. An insectile headset covers her upper face; her hand clutches a controller. Though her gesticulations suggest kinship with the local psychiatric ward or rehab facility, she’s actually a medical student performing a complex surgery—virtually.
Inside her headset, the student sees a three-dimensional rendering of an operating room complete with a patient, a surgical tray with tools, and other details pertinent to a real OR. She cuts, drills, bolts, sutures, and so on through the various stages of the surgery. She is the beneficiary of a new trend in medical training, one that allows her limitless opportunity to practice a procedure over and over, prior to ever touching a patient.
Virtual reality programs allow medical students to practice surgeries
At the University of Utah’s Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library (EHSL), “we are currently doing a number of really interesting projects [with virtual technologies],” says Benjamin Engel, a U of U virtual reality programmer who runs the day-to-day operations at EHSL. His projects include a trauma lead simulation where a patient comes in with a number of issues into the trauma bay and the participant plays the role of the head doctor who must direct everyone to save the patient. The simulation allows students to “gain practice calling directions for an infinite amount of scenarios and cases.”
EHSL also has a “really cool dental sim,” says Engel, “that allows you to do just about everything a dentist would do but fully virtual, with a ton of data collection, and for much cheaper.” In both the trauma and the dental simulations, participants experience the respective scenarios via a headset that cuts them off visually from their environment and puts them in a fabricated one. Engels, and EHSL, is at the forefront of a new frontier in medicine.
According to “Virtual reality in healthcare” by J Mazurek, et al, virtual reality (VR) is “an image of artificial reality created entirely in three-dimensional graphics…” In other words, a computer simulation. The field of VR is also known as “phantomatics,” a moniker that conveys its disconnect from the so-called “real” world. Indeed, many folks associate VR with a gaming subculture of unemployed 33-year-olds escaping their unfulfilled dreams in a digital trance amid empty pizza boxes in their parents’ basement.
But practical virtual reality technologies were originally developed, not as an escapist technology, but to serve a very practical purpose in the aerospace industry. VR simulators allow pilots-in-training to complete hundreds or thousands of landings and takeoffs before taking the controls of an actual aircraft. Which is good: I wouldn’t want to be a passenger during an absolute greenhorn pilot’s maiden landing, sans VR preparation.
Image Credit: Jacob Andra / Utah Business