Virtual reality tool leads new drive to train next generation of health specialists

A new virtual reality tool developed by the University of Leeds, which aims to promote nursing and other specialist health subjects to prospective students, is one of several innovative projects awarded funding by the Office for Students (OfS) today.

The project will use VR technology and educational workshops to engage school students in a range of simulated clinical scenarios – allowing them to respond to real-life challenges through the eyes of healthcare professionals. The project will also use online mentoring to support student university applications, with an emphasis on recruiting more male students to healthcare courses. 
Dr Elaine McNichol, from the School of Healthcare at the University of Leeds, said: “Virtual reality is helping us to excite and inspire bright young minds, giving them a first-hand experience of professional healthcare settings. This project can help identify students across the country with the right qualities to become healthcare professionals, which is especially important given today’s staff shortages.”
The University of Leeds proposal was supported by the Leeds Academic Health Partnership, which shares the aims of this project in trying to attract and diversify the future Leeds health and care workforce.
In total, ten projects have been awarded a combined £440,000 by the OfS in a nationwide scheme which aims to attract more students to nursing, midwifery and allied healthcare courses – including orthoptics, podiatry, and therapeutic radiography. The fund also aims to stimulate innovation in the delivery of these disciplines. On top of OfS funding, an additional £480,000 worth of resources has been committed by participating universities and partners. 
Yvonne Hawkins, Director of Teaching Excellence and Student Experience at the OfS, said: 
“We are delighted to support these innovative projects to boost take-up and delivery of a wide range of vital health courses – which together will help to provide the country with the next generation of healthcare professionals. These new approaches have great potential to benefit students, healthcare education providers, and the wider health sector. We look forward to seeing how the projects will boost course recruitment and provision and will be actively supporting the sharing of good practice.” 
This funding is the final round of the Challenge Fund competition run by the OfS as part of the Strategic Interventions in Health Education Disciplines (SIHED) programme – which aims primarily to increase the number of students entering and completing small, specialist healthcare courses. 
The projects are wide in scope, together covering a range of disciplines including nursing, midwifery, and orthoptics. Podiatry and therapeutic radiography are also among the specialist subjects covered. Both disciplines have been identified as vulnerable due to decreasing recruitment and retention in higher education courses. 
Dr Katerina Kolyva, Executive Director of the Council of Deans of Health said:
“The Council is delighted to have continued its involvement with the OfS Challenge Fund in its second year. It is wonderful to see such a range of innovative ideas being funded to support entry to our healthcare professions. We look forward to seeing the impact these have and to engaging with our members involved in this work”
Further information
For interview requests please contact Simon Moore, University of Leeds press officer, on +44 (0)113 34 38059 and