Stretching Boundaries of Medical Training with Virtual Reality

By Riya Suvarna (Media & Learning Technologies Assistant, EdTech) on April 11, 2022

Virtual Reality (VR) is being used for a variety of medical practices including complex surgical procedures to sharpen the skills of healthcare professionals and advance patient care. A study in the Harvard Business Review showed that VR training “improved participants’ overall surgical performance by 230% compared with traditional training methods.” 

The Immersive Clinical Experience (ICE) project provides UBC undergraduate medical learners with the opportunity to interact virtually with a patient and receive feedback on their diagnosis through realistic clinical decision-making scenarios. It was developed in partnership with the UBC Medicine Clinical Skills Department and learners, the HIVE, the Vancouver Film School, and EdTech. The purpose behind this project was to enable clinical experiences during the pandemic.

I interviewed Paul Milaire (Technical Producer, EdTech) to share his experience working with an interdisciplinary team of educators and developers.

Paul Milaire
Paul Milaire, Technical Producer, EdTech

What was the driving force behind creating ICE?

“ICE was created to help medical undergraduate students with their transition from second to third year. In a low-stakes environment, ICE offers learners a realistic, clinical interaction experience encompassing everything from patient interviews to diagnosis. Our faculty leads were passionate about innovating our approach to learning, so this allowed us to develop a uniquely immersive experience for learners.”

What was it like using VR for this project?

“In the beginning of this project, we had very little experience with VR and its affordances for learning. We quickly developed a capacity for VR development and continuously sought feedback from learners and stakeholders. This has given us a clearer understanding of what VR can offer for learners and what it takes to create in VR. Through collaboration with faculty, learners, and staff, ICE has been successful.”

Any challenges?

“The initial pilot of ICE was challenging because it took place at the height of the pandemic in January 2021. We were concerned about learners sharing VR equipment they had to touch with their hands. To mitigate this risk, we developed a safety plan and cleaning guidelines with UBC Safety & Risk Services. ICE’s virtual learning approach enabled learners to interact with patients at a time when in-person interactions were not feasible.”

Liz McDonald (Undergraduate Academic Assistant, EdTech) tests virtual simulation

Where do you see UBC Faculty of Medicine going next with VR?

“While we have learned a lot about VR, we have only scratched the surface of learning opportunities that VR affords. Our next goal is to explore cooperative multiplayer experiences, advanced physical interactions, and achieve high-quality representation of people via volumetric capture and motion capture animation.”

Feel free to send us an email at if you have any ideas for a project and are interested in collaborating or looking to work with our team!

Special thanks to Catherine Choa and Paul Milaire for contributing to this post!