By Christy Vogel, MSN, RN, CHSE, CHSOS
The need and use of emerging technologies such as immersive virtual reality simulation in nursing education is growing. The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for adopting simulation technologies that supplement and complement valuable, but at times, restricted hands-on clinical experiences. The question is, how can we as nursing educators secure support and funding for these engaging and effective technological advances?
Prior to making decisions and requests for new technology, it is vitally important to understand the benefits of immersive virtual reality simulation, help develop buy-in with key stakeholders such as administrators, educators, and students, and to keep abreast of available funding for technology in nurse education programs.
Benefits of Immersive Virtual Reality Simulation
The evidence shows that virtual reality is an effective approach in building vital skills such as critical thinking, communication with patients, knowledge acquisition, and recognition of high stakes clinical situations. In addition, a recent study shows training with immersive virtual reality was superior to classroom and e-learning training in learner confidence, focus, speed of learning and emotional connection to the content at hand . With the highly anticipated Next Generation NCLEX (NGN) plan, the focus on clinical judgment is of the utmost importance, and the trajectory of nursing education should include modalities that will build this important skill. Findings from a recent study note that technologies such as virtual simulation improve clinical judgment skills. The National Council for State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) suggests that educators can start to prepare students for the NGN by using modalities such as simulation to help develop clinical judgment.
Nursing students building clinical judgment skills with immersive virtual reality simulation
Building Buy-In from Key Stakeholders
Securing buy-in from key stakeholders is vital when making requests for new technologies. Stakeholders in nursing education include administrators, nursing faculty, and students.
College and university administrators will be interested in the return on investment (ROI) to quantify value when making an investment in technology. When considering ROI, administrators will want to know the costs and benefits of the investment. Costs include technology purchases, operations, and faculty education and support. Benefits can be quantitative, such as a reduction in errors, and a faster time to demonstrate competence, or qualitative such as improved patient safety, student engagement and satisfaction as well as building interest from prospective students. It would also be helpful to demonstrate to administrators how new simulation technology can be used alongside the programs’ existing manikins and task trainers to augment the students’ learning experience.
Faculty are interested in technology that enhances students’ clinical judgment and uses their resources judiciously. Some virtual reality simulation platforms offer a peer-to-peer learning model, which keeps multiple learners engaged as active participants. A peer-to-peer learning model can also accommodate more students than traditional simulation activities, thus using less faculty resources. Having ideas of how to incorporate new technologies into the curriculum and ideas of how faculty will be trained on the new technologies is another important talking point for faculty buy-in.
Students are another key stakeholder to gain support from. Having virtual reality technology in the nursing program is enticing to prospective and current nursing students who are well-versed in the use of virtual reality and have a preference for immersive learning. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, one survey found that 65% of nursing programs were already using virtual simulation with nearly half expected to use virtual reality in the next 5 years to provide immersive, realistic learning experiences for nursing students.
Nursing students participate in an immersive virtual reality scenario
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Funding for Technology in Nurse Education Programs
Even with understanding the benefits of new technologies and buy-in from stakeholders, the costs of purchasing these technologies and equipment can be costly. Some nursing programs include new technologies in their annual budget, and if not, there are resources such as grants, available to fund new technology.
Writing grants can be overwhelming, especially for new faculty. Collaborating with the grant writing office at your institution, or with a faculty mentor who is experienced in grant writing can be helpful. It is important to follow the guidelines in the grant instructions, and to clearly and succinctly explain how the awarded funds will specifically be used. Reach out to your virtual reality simulation vendor if you need help with sourcing evidence-based references to support your grant-writing process.
Immersive virtual reality technology used in nursing education
Here are some examples of grants you can explore when looking for ways to fund technology in your program:
- The Perkins V Grant aims to invest in secondary and postsecondary Career Technical Education (CTE) in all 50 states and the territories. This grant focuses on strengthening the academic and technical achievement of CTE students. States and local communities have flexibility on how to use the funding, such as continuous improvement of existing programs of study.
- The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund III (HEERF III) created under the American Rescue Plan offers COVID-19 relief funds available throughout September 30, 2023. Allowable expenses include technology costs associated with a transition to distance education, which may include technologies such as virtual reality simulation education.
- The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Funding Opportunities prioritizes research in areas that improve health care patient safety and harnessing data and technology to improve health care and patient outcomes. Research projects may address topics such as health care safety culture, communication, teamwork, and simulation.
Healthcare Simulation Organization Grants
- The Debra Spunt Research Grant from the International Nursing Association for Clinical Simulation and Learning (INACSL) with funding provided by Laerdal is designed to fund INACSL research priorities including the use of virtual reality in nursing. Novice researchers are encouraged to apply, and applicants must be an INACSL member and a key person on the research team.
- NLN Nursing Education Research Grants Program from the National League for Nursing (NLN) is designed to support high quality studies to develop the science of nursing education. All studies must relate to one or more of the NLN Priorities for Research in Nursing Education, which include the generation and translation of innovative teaching and learning strategies including emerging technologies. Principal investigators must be current NLN members, and the NLN awards funding for approximately 5 research proposals annually.
- Sigma/National League for Nursing Grant is an annual award designed to support the use of technology in nursing education research. Applicants must be a registered nurse with a current license and hold a master’s or doctoral degree or be enrolled in a doctoral nursing program. Preference will be given to Sigma and/or NLN members. The study must relate to one or more of the NLN Priorities for Research in Nursing Education, which include the generation and translation of innovative teaching and learning strategies including emergent technologies.
- Sigma/Joan K. Stout, RN, Research Grant is provided by Sigma and the Council on Advancement of Nursing Science to advance evidence-based research on the impact of simulation education in schools of nursing and clinical settings. The research project should be aimed to ensure the practice of nurse-led simulation in academia or clinical, with the potential for additional funding and ongoing research. The principal investigator must be a registered nurse with a current license and have at least a master’s degree in nursing.
- The Society for Simulation in Healthcare (SSH) Novice Research Grant Program was established to support novice investigators and the development of new research initiatives that are innovative and positively affect the simulation field.
- The International Network for Simulation-based Pediatric Innovation, Research, and Education (INSPIRE) organization offers two pediatric simulation funding opportunities. The INSPIRE Research Award and INSPIRE Novice Researcher Award funds simulation-based projects with strong potential for a positive impact on healthcare delivery and processes.
Other Support for Healthcare Education
- The Zoll Foundation Grant aims to support newer researchers investigating educational activities combined with measurement to enhance care in the field of resuscitation and acute critical care.
- The Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation Grant offers a Board Grant and a President’s Grant which focuses on projects that foster innovation in clinical learning environments to promote diversity, increase collaboration, and prepare health professionals to navigate ethical dilemmas. Board Grants are selected three times a year, and President’s Grants can be given at any time.
Virtual patients display a variety of symptoms and conditions in immersive virtual reality
Additional Avenues for Funding
In addition to grant opportunities, faculty may have access to additional avenues for funding new technologies. Within your community, there may be opportunities to create innovative partnerships with other programs, schools, hospitals, or clinical agencies to share equipment and resources. Within your reach, there may be local donors, philanthropists, and/or alumni who have a vested interest in your organization, and a desire to make an impact in the local community by supporting the integration of technology in nursing education.
As we move forward to educate the next generation of nurses, we have shifted from teacher-centered classrooms to robust, immersive learner-centered experiences. Innovative simulation technology is vital to helping learners develop critical thinking and clinical judgment. Bringing these innovative technologies to your learners can be best achieved by understanding the numerous benefits, gaining stakeholder buy-in, and exploring resources through different avenues and collaborations.
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