Winston-Salem State University School of Health Sciences will be the first HBCU (Historically Black College and University) in North Carolina to incorporate virtual reality (VR) into the clinical training curriculum for nursing students.

This opportunity is a collaboration between WSSU and the School of Filmmaking at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA). Funding has been provided by the North Carolina Collaboratory through an appropriation from the North Carolina General Assembly, including via its Historically Minority Serving Institution Grant Program. Nearly $800,000 has been awarded to the two schools for digital design and program implementation. This endeavor will be among the largest investments in virtual reality through the Media and Emerging Technology Lab (METL) program at UNCSA, and one of the most significant partnerships between the two universities.

“As one of our state’s highest producers of nurses, it was imperative for us to rethink training, given the current challenges,” said WSSU Chancellor Dr. Elwood Robinson. “VR will help us fill these gaps while positioning our students for long-term success.”

This program provides training techniques designed to help address the national shortage of nurses and is receiving attention from educational nursing programs across the United States. The use of virtual reality offers students early access to train in clinical environments through simulated real-world experiences. The experiences are designed to develop clinical judgment and increase knowledge retention, as well as provide students with safe and early access to clinical environments.

WSSU’s virtual reality curriculum is a customized educational platform produced in conjunction with the School of Filmmaking at UNCSA and its industry partners Looking Glass XR and Out of Our Minds Studio. Initial VR modeling for the project was built using Unreal Engine, a platform developed by Epic Games. There is interest and potential to deploy the platform to nursing programs across the United States.

The arts and science collide in this joint program. Ryan Schmaltz, director of special VR projects at UNCSA, along with Stacy Payne, School of Filmmaking alumni Tyler Burchett and Mikaela Byrd, worked with WSSU School of Health Sciences faculty and administration including Dr. Leslee Battle, Dr. Cecil Holland, Dr. Susan Hall, Dr. Gina DeCelle, and Dr. Tori Brown to integrate storytelling and technology with the newest RN certifying standards, Next Generation NCLEX.  

WSSU integrated virtual reality into its curriculum on 25 April. The VR lab will be housed in the Center for Design Innovation.