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VMASC Team Awarded Grant to Develop Software Program for Training Military Nurses Prior to Deployment

A team of researchers from Old Dominion University's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC) have received a two-year, $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC).

The grant will fund the creation of a highly interactive training software program that will support simulation centered, mentorship-based training for Army and Navy nurses before they deploy to extremely challenging environments. This program will promote core medical and surgical skills as a foundation for pre-deployment trauma and teamwork training.

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, major advances in trauma care have come from all branches of military medicine. Military doctors and nurses care for large numbers of patients, often with catastrophic injuries.

Andrea Parodi, research associate professor and principal investigator on the grant, said there are always significant challenges when a military nurse gets deployed, either for humanitarian assistance, disaster relief or to a war zone. Challenges include the need to build or refine trauma skills.

There are times when there are shortages of clinical educators or not enough time to practice important clinical or teamwork skills. The VMASC project is designed to help nurses fit in quickly and seamlessly as team members.

The study leading up to the creation of the training program will test the efficacy of an immersive, interactive, avatar-rich virtual environment to develop nursing knowledge and teamwork skills before deployment.

"Trauma care requires the Nurse Corps officers to be both mentally and clinically prepared to anticipate managing patients that may be more critically injured than they have ever previously encountered. This preparation should take place pre-deployment," Parodi said.

"The proposed medical simulation process allows the trainees to fail, but within the safety zone of a virtual environment. As the trainees debrief their own performance, they gain insight and added knowledge from their manufactured experience. We hope to show that this approach to clinical education and training helps build their abilities of priority setting and critical thinking."

Multiple types of media will be integrated in the game-based training simulation, including actual photographs of serious combat wounds, which Army and Navy nurses will see in the field. The program will also be designed to be online- or CD-based, and will allow groups of nurses - even those who have never worked together - to train in a "multi-player" team setting.

Other ODU researchers working on the project include Yiannis Papelis, research professor at VMASC; Ginger Watson, associate professor of STEM education in the Darden College of Education; and Menion Croll, Bridget Giles and Robert Turner, senior project scientists at VMASC. In addition, the team will collaborate with Dr. William McGaghie, who is the Jacob Suker Professor of Medical Education, professor of preventive medicine and director of evaluation at the Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, part of NU's Feinberg School of Medicine, in Chicago. The ODU research team is also partnering with Breakaway Ltd., a company that is a pioneer in the serious gaming field, as well as a group of Nurse Corps officers representing both the Army and Navy.

"It is so important having the active participation of the Nurse Corps," Parodi said. "The simulation-based educational program is for them, and they need to feel it is what they need."

The two-year effort will begin with a meeting at VMASC on June 5.

"This program will seamlessly capture measures and metrics to include demographics, satisfaction and other aspects of learner success, ready for transmission to VMASC from the four Army and Navy test sites," Parodi said. "We expect the end product will be improved Nurse Corps knowledge and performance of requisite skills, further enabling excellence in patient care anywhere, anytime."

TATRC, an office of the headquarters of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, fosters the lifecycle of innovative research projects that benefit DOD medical training programs. Parodi, a retired Navy Nurse Corps officer herself, said TATRC's focus, similar to that of the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, is on the cutting edge of medical technology and training research.