By CHARLES ANZALONE
Published October 24, 2023
UB’s School of Nursing continues to enhance its patient simulation training thanks to a three-year, $1.5 million federal training grant aimed at using virtual reality-based experiential education to meet the needs of rural and underserved populations.
Kelly Foltz-Ramos, assistant professor and director of simulation for the School of Nursing, received the grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). It will support UB’s REACHvr (Rural and Underserved Education and Awareness for Community Health through Virtual Reality) program, which aims to offer evidence-based experiential education to pre-licensure undergraduate nursing students.
“Rural Americans are more vulnerable to medical issues compared to their urban counterparts,” says Foltz-Ramos, who has been instrumental in UB’s expanding commitment to teaching its nursing students through patient simulations.
“The need for this program arises from the declining population in rural areas of New York State. Rural communities face various challenges, including health care workforce shortages, higher poverty rates and transportation difficulties.”
Rural residents also experience higher rates of disability, mortality and lower life expectancies compared to the overall population, according to Foltz-Ramos.
Social determinants of health, such as geographic isolation, lower socioeconomic status, and risky health behaviors, contribute to these disparities.
“There is a crucial need to enhance nursing education and increase the nursing workforce to address these issues,” Foltz-Ramos says. “Nurses play a significant role in improving health care outcomes and reducing disparities, especially in rural and underserved communities.”
The REACHvr program’s objective is to enhance the number and capabilities of nursing students to effectively meet the health care needs of underserved populations in rural areas of Western New York and the Finger Lakes region, while also improving health care outcomes, according to Foltz-Ramos.
The objectives will be met by developing the REACHvr program with evidence-based modules and virtual reality (VR) simulations, enhancing current and developing new academic-practice partnerships with health care practices in rural and underserved communities.
The program also pays attention to recruitment methods for students and faculty to recruit and retain students and faculty from diverse populations, including those from rural and underserved communities, disadvantaged backgrounds, and underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities.
The federal grant coincides with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s signing of the nursing simulation bill in May. The legislation will allow nursing students to complete up to one-third of their required clinical work in a high-quality simulation environment.
“The use of VR in nursing simulation can enhance knowledge and complement other simulation strategies,” says Foltz-Ramos.
The proposed program offers an opportunity to expose a large cohort of undergraduate nursing students to rural health care experiences, according to Foltz-Ramos. It requires appropriate VR equipment and training for faculty and staff to ensure high-quality simulation experiences.
The program emphasizes enhancing diversity in the nursing workforce by introducing an urban-based nursing cohort to rural health care environments. The long-term cost-benefit analysis of VR is favorable, and the program also aligns with justice, equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives, according to researchers in the School of Nursing.
“By promoting diversity, providing immersive training and utilizing evidence-based approaches, the program aims to improve patient outcomes and reduce health care disparities in these communities,” says Foltz-Ramos.
The REACHvr program is the first time the School of Nursing is incorporating virtual reality as a regularly used teaching modality.
“I have been diligently seeking the right opportunity to integrate virtual reality simulation into our nursing curriculum,” says Foltz-Ramos. “The REACHvr program represents an ideal match, using cutting-edge technology to better prepare our students as future nurses in any setting, including rural and underserved areas.”