ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – When COVID-19 canceled traditional nursing school clinics, the University of New Mexico College of Nursing decided to think inside the box, using a virtual computer simulation to still give students the interactive education they need. After the pandemic hit, in-person clinicals were out of the question.

“Right when COVID started happening last year, we sat down and started brainstorming about what alternative form of clinical we could find for the students,” said Katherine Grand, senior lecturer at UNM College of Nursing. “We played around with it and loved it and decided we would use this one specific software that we love.”

They found a virtual program called vSim for Nursing. It’s all done from the computer with no virtual reality headset needed.

“They come up with the scenarios and they’re a pretty traditional type of things you’re going to see in the hospital and then some non-traditional stuff so you know what to do in an emergency,” said Grand. “Some of the common stuff you would see and the workflow process just to work through that.”

Nursing students face everything from bleeds to anaphylactic shock or pneumonia. The simulation allows the student to review the patient’s record, and eventually, interact and take vitals or give medication.

“This is our patient here. This is Kenneth Bronson, he came into the emergency department a few hours ago with chest pain, some breathing difficulty,” said Grand, going through the simulation. “We just got a reading of a heart rate down here of 96 and an SpO2 of 95, and then we’ll get a blood pressure that’ll show up on the monitor.”

Afterward, students get a score and can continue retaking it to improve. The school is now allowing about 50-percent in-person clinicals and 50-percent virtual, but they have plans to continue this in the future.

“We’ll probably utilize the software in areas where it’s difficult to get clinical, such as pediatrics,” said Grand. “There are some really great learning opportunities for the virtual sim that they may never get the opportunity to do in the hospital setting.”

While in-person is preferred, technology like this is a big boost to the program. About 250 UNM College of Nursing students has learned through the virtual simulation.