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AI to Assist Nursing Students With Clinical Simulations

The online medical certification company MedCerts is combining AI with augmented reality to simulate training scenarios for nursing and medical students to practice diagnosing and interacting with patients.

MedCerts’ Dana Janssen and Raj Arora demonstrate an interaction with an avatar in one of MedCerts' medical simulation modules.
MedCerts' Dana Janssen and Raj Arora demonstrate an interaction with an avatar in one of MedCerts' medical simulation modules, where students can ask the avatars questions to assess conditions.
Screenshot by Brandon Paykamian
According to a report last year from the market research firm Research and Markets, higher-ed institutions are starting to turn to AR/VR and other simulation programs to provide immersive training for nursing and medical students. At the same time, AI is gaining traction for a variety of instructional uses, such as content creation. Noting the potential of combining AI and simulation-based learning, the online training provider MedCerts has developed an online medical training platform that uses large language models to simulate interactions with virtual patient “avatars,” allowing health sciences students to practice skills such as bedside manner and diagnosing patients.

MedCerts’ Chief Product Officer Dana Janssen said the platform allows students to ask these avatars questions, then assess their conditions and develop treatment plans based on their interactions. He said the goal is to give students more confidence working in clinical environments by developing their “soft” social skills in sensitivity, professionalism and communication. He added that the use of AI in these simulations allows users to have more in-depth conversations than some other simulation programs, making the virtual experience more immersive and realistic.

“Recently, we’ve adopted AI for use in scenario-based learning, where the conversation is organic but also guided and prompted by us on the front end. But by using LLM AI like ChatGPT, that conversation takes its own shape and its own form within the set parameters that we’ve created,” he said. “You can have full interactions [with the avatars]. The avatars have their own persona in terms of whether they have a husband or a wife, kids, where they live, what town they’re from and all of that backstory about themselves.”

Janssen said simulation tools like the one developed by MedCerts allow universities to “bring the clinical environment to the learner,” and noted that several universities have already made use of their medical training modules, including Duke University, the University of Texas and Elon University.

“We have screen-based simulations where we have objects that are on screen that are 3D-animated, where a learner can manipulate and move those objects on screen. Then, we also have elements like scenario-based learning … interacting with the patient in a virtual manner,” he said.

Raj Arora, MedCerts’ senior instructional design manager, said MedCerts’ simulations make use of large language models like ChatGPT 3.5, with plans to integrate ChatGPT 4 and other tools like Bard to further enhance MedCerts’ medical and nursing modules moving forward.

“In 10 minutes, you can build a complete simulation case on this platform,” he said. “That’s the beauty of this, that content generation and content development has become so easy.”

According to Janssen, MedCerts is mainly using augmented-reality technology and screen simulations accessible via mobile devices or PCs for clinical scenario practice and studying anatomy. He said the company is considering finding ways to use MedCerts’ 3D simulation assets in full virtual-reality settings once the cost of VR devices becomes less prohibitive for students.

“That is most definitely a part of our future as we continue to evolve — with a focus on integrating VR/AR and conversational AI elements into super immersive learner experiences,” he said.
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.