Here in the Oasis: Virtual Reality scaffolds clinical education

The steady-eyed attending surgeon managed to remain calm while he guided me through the tricky orthopedic procedure, despite the urgency of the situation. The purplish black bruising on the leg and my view of the X-ray gave me the information I needed to start. The attending surgeon walked around the room evaluating my every move and giving me directions. Another player who looked a lot like Morpheus from the Matrix assisted me in putting the boy’s leg back together.

Arch Virtual for Envision EMI
Performing surgery in a virtual environment
Image courtesy Arch Virtual, application developed for Envision EMI

Could I DO this?

I had never been in an operating room before, let alone performed surgery. My assistant, the one who looked like Morpheus, picked up the scalpel and handed it to me. Was he supposed to be handing me the scalpel? I thought scalpels are sharp, was I going to cut my thumb off?

I told myself, you CAN do this. The artificial intelligence and user interface guided me through a perfect incision. I completed the rest of the surgery, including dissection, and screwing the hardware in place, stabilizing the broken leg successfully.

If you haven’t figured it out, I was immersed in a virtual environment.
Dr. Bauman was the assisting technician in the VR surgery, and I was the (virtual) surgeon in training or resident. We were testing a new simulation he’s been working on with Arch Virtual, a company that creates a variety of virtual reality simulations. Arch Virtual’s Immerse Creator platform enables users to create environments reminisce of the Oasis of Ernest Cline’s novel and now movie, Ready Player One.

Arch Virtual image created for Envision EMI
Performing surgery in a virtual environment
Image courtesy Arch Virtual, application developed for Envision EMI

If you’re not familiar, in Ready Player One, the Oasis is an immersive VR environment that even includes a high school:

“…the classrooms were like holodecks. Teachers could take students on a virtual field trip every day, without ever leaving the grounds….During our World History lesson that morning, Mr. Avenovich loaded up a stand-alone simulation so that our class could witness the discovery of King Tut’s tomb by archaeologists in Egypt in AD 1922.”

Wade Watts, Ready Player One¹

Much like the simulated immersive school in the book, and now the movie, today’s virtual reality platforms can deliver a digital learning environment that is no longer just a thing of science fiction.

Jon Brouchoud, CEO of Arch Virtual, shared his thoughts about how virtual reality is reaching more people.

“While “Ready Player One” is set in 2045, anyone who has the opportunity to try even the current generation of VR headsets will see that multi-user virtual reality is already taking learning to a whole new level, enabling students to access immersive learning scenarios or even meet with healthcare experts in other parts of the world.

Not unlike Cline’s description of the Oasis, putting on a VR headset enables you to become an active participant in the scene,  interacting with other people in realtime, and participating in a procedure firsthand as if you’re actually there. It’s a game changer for healthcare simulation, and we’re just getting started.”

Dr. Eric B. Bauman has this to say about the role of virtual and augmented reality:

“Best practices for teaching and learning in virtual reality and its cousin, augmented reality (AR) scaffold traditional educational practices like lectures and reading assignments as part of a layered learning model where technology supports goals and objectives. It provides immersive and interactive experiences simply not available through the traditional didactic educational process.”

Mary Jo Trapani at Arch Virtual
Mary Jo Trapani, immersed in virtual reality

Back in reality at Arch Virtual headquarters, it was time to take off the Oculus Rift headset and transition back to the real world.  As I write this a month later I still remember every step in the virtual surgery. It felt real enough to make me pause at the thought of performing an incision and wonder if I’d be able to handle looking at virtual blood.

It was fun.

Mary Jo Trapani is a frequent contributor and editor for Clinical Playground. Follow Mary Jo on Twitter @MJinMadison


1. Cline, E. (2018). Ready player one. Broadway Books.