Exploring the Possibility of Virtual Reality in a Clinical Setting

As an Educator working at a technical institute, it is evident that the pandemic caused significant changes in the way I could deliver courses. In March 2019, the government, regulatory bodies, and health authorities across the world enforced a shutdown of all education schools, including medical and dental schools. Dental education has been impacted tremendously over the past year, including challenges with ensuring students meet clinical requirements dictated by their regulatory body. This change prompted me to research new ways to incorporate current pedagogy, clinical assessments, and courses. Virtual reality (VR) is gaining popularity in the dental field. Multiple post-secondary institutes have already incorporated it into their curriculum (Buchanan, 2001). Research has shown that Simulation training in dentistry is becoming a vital component in the curriculum, as it provides a student with the ability to safely practice and develop clinical skills according to the required competencies and learning outcomes before performing them on patients (Perry, Bridges, & Burrow, 2015). It also allows clinical programs using (VR) technology to personalize individual learning, give support and immediate feedback identifying areas where the student may have difficulties.


As my research takes me into learning more about the possibilities of incorporating (VR) into my clinical courses, I realized that our program is underutilizing technology and resources available to enhance our program. On December 3, 2019, retired investment manager and Calgary philanthropist David Bissett made a $30 million gift to SAIT. In doing so, Bissett stated that” the critical need for Canadians to be fully competitive in digital technology or become a nation falling behind a world has been racing toward digital transformation for some time now, changing how we work, live, and learn” (SAIT, 2019). SAIT’s 2020-2025 strategic plan outlines the need to embed digital and leadership literacy across all school programs (SAIT,2021). In 2020 SAIT opened the school for Advanced Digital Technology, which is ironic considering our lack of available technology within our program.


To produce a high level of education to ensure graduate success, Implementing (VR) in a clinic setting would be a great asset to the program. Research has shown no other technology like virtual reality (VR); allows a person to experience artificial constructs to such a degree that it envelops their senses and makes them feel as though they are there (Southgate, 2020, p. 121). So, my research continues as I move our program into a digital environment to increase clinical success. I have found that this topic is vast, and there are many roads intertwined. I have narrowed down my question, and my research will continue. I welcome any feedback, comments, and ideas to help me navigate the world of (VR).


  • Would incorporating (VR) into a learning environment increase clinical competence?
  • Would (VR) allow students to complete clinical requirements dictated by their regulatory body?
  • What are the logistics of introducing (VR) into a clinical environment?
  • Is it possible to incorporate a (VR) environment into a predominantly face-to-face program?


Buchanan, J. A. (2001). Use of simulation technology in dental education. Journal of Dental Education, 65(11), 1225–1231. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.0022-0337.2001.65.11.tb03481.x

Southgate, E. (2020). Virtual reality in curriculum and pedagogy: Evidence from secondary classrooms. Routledge.

SAIT. (n.d.). School for Advanced Digital Technology. SAIT. https://www.sait.ca/about-sait/who-we-are/sait-schools/school-for-advanced-digital-technology.

SAIT. (n.d.). Strategic plan 2020 – 2025. Strategic Plan 2020 – 2025 | SAIT, Calgary, Canada. https://www.sait.ca/about-sait/strategic-plan.


9 thoughts on “Exploring the Possibility of Virtual Reality in a Clinical Setting

  1. Cheryl,
    Real environment, AR environment, or VR environment—will there be a time we would be able to tell the difference? I am so new to AR/VR as I am not a video-game lover (except for days of Pacman, Astroids, and Frogger), but I do love digital technology. From my understanding, learning technical skills and practicing decision-making in dangerous situations using AR/VR is clearly beneficial to learners in higher education. I question the use of this delivery technology in K-12. Navigating the current pandemic has taught me so much about the importance of face-to-face interactions and how much students appreciate socializing in school. Learning in isolation, emersed in screens seems to create more anxiety in our students. Many students would enjoy the AR/VR experience in school but will AR/VR develop caring, empathetic, competent adults? As a mother, what do you think?

    1. Hi Wendy, at first I wondered also if AR/VR would assist health care professionals to be more empathetic to patients needs with the ability to immerse themselves in technology. VR/ AR has been shown to increase empathy, as it is a crucial skill one must have to work in health care, many health care programs participate in empathy training as it allows someone see the experience through someone else’s eyes and gives them a different perspective. I came across this paper “Learning Empathy through Virtual Reality”, I found it very insightful and I did not realize the impact VR/AR can have until I read it. As a mom I feel that my own kids could benefit from experiences with virtual reality.

  2. I have similar hopes and concerns for VR as a possible tool for a safe learning environment in healthcare education. This brings to mind the Clark vs Kozma media debate regarding learning and use of technology. And given the current expense, it would be good to ensure that the money is well spent. My main critical questions are what is the pedagogy behind the technology and will the students get sufficient time to learn how to use the technology to it’s best potential? Is there a cost to students beyond the initial institutional purchase, like a subscription fee of some sort? This subscription model seem prevalent from what I have seen from vendors out there.

    1. Hi Shelley, from my recent research the schools that have implemented the technology already have made the “training” of using the technology part of the curriculum. I know from personal experience, with teaching a digital radiography class my students had to have a understanding first of using a computer, the software program used to capture the image and equipment used to take the image. I feel that my students today are more adaptive to new technologies then previous years, and there are many factors that have contributed to that. With all educational programs, there is always a cost for technology currently with our students the cost is built into their tuition and fees they are required to pay.

  3. Great post, Cheryl! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    I was surprised to see the Buchanan reference, dating back to 2001, when the VR breakthroughs that have recently been made were still a long way off. I have no doubts at all about how VR can be used to improve learning in a field like yours… but is the cost of implementation still not prohibitive? I understand the cost of this technology has reduced drastically in recent years… but is it still not a concern?

    Thanks again for the thought provoking post!


    1. Hi Chris, I was actually surprised how far back VR goes as it has been around since the 1920’s when Edwin Link created the world’s first flight simulator, it seems Canada is many light years behind with the implementation of technology in the health care field. In Germany VR in health care programs are standard in the curriculum. Cost is always a factor with any technology or technical institute, however I feel like less emphasis should be put on the cost and more on the benefits of student and patient experiences.

  4. Interesting post Cheryl. I come from a heavily regulated profession and one of the questions I keep coming back to is whether the regulatory bodies for both of our work fields would allow something like VR or Videos to ultimately replace in-person/hands-on instruction? Do you think the regulatory bodies in your field would be opposed to something like this?

    1. Hi Ash, it is actually very interesting how regulatory bodies perceive virtual reality within a learning environment. One of our ethical principals is “first do no harm”, as technology advances it gives health care providers the opportunity to practice in a simulation environment prior to performing skills on a human, which can assist in reducing medical errors. I know from experience that I would have benefited from a simulation environment, when I was taking a local anesthetic course. We practiced on oranges, and when it came time to perform the skill on my human partner it was nothing like the orange. Oranges don’t have nerves or arteries you can nick and cause damage. I did not feel prepared at all to pick up that needled and inject my partner with anesthetic. They said the skin of the orange replicated the feeling of injecting a human, I would say that was not the case. I remember the professor sayin “Its better to learn from your mistakes on another student then on a real patient” In some aspects what he said was true however, my partner was still a real person and the ethical principal “first do no harm” should be followed regardless if they are a student or a patient.

  5. Cheryl, it’s indeed correct that VR has been around for a long time, and can even be traced back to the early days of stereoscopic photography (see link below). In medical education the purposes included standardization of medical training and avoiding the problem of practising on patients as discussed in the comments. On a side note, it is interesting how technologies can be introduced into institutions based on the interests of donors and their perceptions that digital literacy itself is a goal to be achieved, rather clinical competence of health professionals and others who provide important services to society. Those two goals certainly can and do overlap, but the emphasis is interesting. You have plenty to write about here.


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