(BPT) - People are more connected now than ever before thanks to the globalization of technology, international travel, commerce and industry. But this interconnectedness also means that health concerns, which were once limited to a community, can have a global impact. The Zika virus, the outbreak recently declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO), is the latest example of a foreign health issue that quickly raised concern within our borders.
Nurses are using the technology that connects us to prepare for this new reality. Through virtual simulation education, they are learning to care for diverse populations and practicing global health scenarios including epidemics, rare illnesses and other infectious diseases.
"Globalization has changed our approach to health care. Viral diseases can spread rapidly, so we have to be ready," says Dee McGonigle, professor in Chamberlain College of Nursing's Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program. "Virtual learning environments provide valuable, interactive education on best practices for patient safety and disease containment in a real-time scenario that mimics real life."
Dr. McGonigle heads up the college's 3-D Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). During the Ebola outbreak in 2014, she and several colleagues built the Virtual Ebola Treatment Center (VETC) in Second Life, a virtual world created by its global community of users. In Second Life, users - known as residents - are represented by avatars that can walk, run, sit, stand, fly and interact with other residents.
Chamberlain students learned how to admit and care for Ebola patients by practicing scenarios in the VETC within Second Life. Faculty from the MSN Informatics specialty track facilitated and mentored students through the risk-free virtual learning experience.
Like the Zika virus, the Ebola crisis was a wake-up call that proved how quickly disease can spread and how important it is to be prepared. Seemingly overnight, health care professionals and students nationwide were tasked with developing expertise on a disease that was previously of little concern to U.S. citizens.
"Nurses around the world were looking for answers," says Dr. McGonigle. "We knew we had the opportunity to build a critical training tool to prepare our students to treat Ebola patients."
Chamberlain alumna Kellany Cadogan-Noland, now a clinical learning lab specialist at Chamberlain, utilized Second Life for her MSN Informatics Specialty Track nursing project. Second Life nursing projects are designed to help those who cannot complete them in a real-world situation because of geographic or other limitations.
Cadogan-Noland used the VETC to test potential responses to an Ebola outbreak in the United States. She collaborated with mentors around the country to determine which infrastructures and clinical processes - such as clinical dressing locations for hospital staff - were most effective at disease containment. Within weeks of completing her project, the West African outbreak had spread to the United States. Cadogan-Noland and her team adjusted their VETC strategy to implement and test containment plans as they were announced by the WHO.
"I benefitted more from Second Life than I would have through an onsite project because we could adapt the virtual environment to our learning needs so quickly," Cadogan-Noland says. "I was able to quickly test scenarios through simulations. We couldn't have accomplished this within such a short timeframe in a brick and mortar facility."
Chamberlain faculty and students can easily adapt their model of virtual simulation education to address other emerging global health issues like the Zika virus, giving nurses like Cadogan-Noland an extraordinary window to the rest of the world. Dr. McGonigle and other Chamberlain leaders behind the VETC are planning more interprofessional collaboration in the future to explore new innovative applications of the virtual learning experience for their students.
"The quality of virtual learning is continually evolving with enhanced technology and feedback from putting simulation methods into practice," says Dr. McGonigle. "We have so much more to discover with virtual learning. We are just getting started as we use it this to educate nurses who will go on to transform health care worldwide."
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