The Bascom Palmer Eye Institute recently began offering medical students the opportunity to learn about ophthalmology in virtual reality.
Second-year medical student Normila Barthelemy had never donned a virtual reality headset or set foot in the metaverse. Until recently.
As part of their neurological rotation at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, Barthelemy or her avatar entered a virtual replica of her auditorium as part of the Miller School of Medicine’s first virtual reality course. After teleporting to her seat, Barthelemy listened intently Chris Alabiad, MD, introduced her and some classmates to the slit lamp, an important tool in diagnostic eye exams.
Later that week, Barthelemy and her classmates gave a lecture on various eye diseases in the virtual auditorium. And although it took her some time to get used to navigating space in virtual reality, Barthelemy said she enjoyed the experience.
“It was really fun, fairly easy to use and felt very real,” admitted Barthelemy, who attended the course as part of a larger neurology department. “It felt a lot more personal than video conferencing tools because I was walking around the room with other people. After a while it didn’t seem virtual anymore because it was so interactive. It seemed very similar to reality.”
She’s not the only one excited about learning in virtual reality. Bascom Palmer executives attended the first course and hope to expand it and develop even more innovative ways to train ophthalmologists and other healthcare professionals.
“We are very excited to be able to move into this space” Eduardo Alfonso, MD, director of Bascom Palmer and chairman of the department of ophthalmology, told the students of the first VR class. “We must constantly examine what changes we can make to make what we do better. You are all on the verge of realizing the incredible opportunity we have to bring education to a place that will benefit us all immensely, so that we can devote the time we have to causes that help humanity. “
Giselle Ricur, MD, executive director of virtual eye care at Bascom Palmer, agreed.
“This is part of a paradigm shift in medical education as well as healthcare and will enable us to be better doctors and healthcare professionals in the future,” she said.
Pilot courses with VR
A team of faculty and students at Bascom Palmer and the University UMverse initiative – an evolution of its XR initiative – have been working over the past year to develop the course and a virtual version of the slit lamp as part of the UMverse virtual learning initiative – a series of pilot courses that use virtual reality to improve various disciplines.
On the Coral Gables campus, Bryson Rudolph, a software engineer with the Institute of Data Science and Technology and the UMverse Initiative, along with students from the School of Architecture and the School of Communication, helped create the Bascom Palmer class using LiDAR technology and 3D cameras. They scanned the actual auditorium and exam rooms at Bascom Palmer and created cloud models of them. They then used interactive software to create the slit lamp. To ensure the virtual tool had all the functionality of a real slit lamp, they worked closely with Joshua Reyes, a fourth-year medical student and research associate in virtual eye care, and Dr. Alabiad, a clinical professor of ophthalmology, taught the class together.
“It’s a difficult exam to master, so we thought that if you could practice in a VR simulator, it would be much easier for these students to become familiar with the slit lamp when they’re actually doing an exam on a patient.” , said Dr. Alabiad, who is also associate dean for student affairs and director of the Ophthalmology residency program.
Kim Grinfeder, director of the UMverse initiative and chair of the Department of Interactive Media at the School of Communication, said he’s glad the Miller School is starting to integrate augmented reality.
“This is a powerful example of how we can use immersive technologies in medicine,” he said. “I hope there will be more courses like this in the future because their vision aligns perfectly with our goal of expanding access to education for individuals not just in the United States but worldwide.”
Improvement of the virtual slit lamp
Rudolph is still working with Dr. Ricour, Dr. Alabiad and Reyes are working on improving the virtual slit lamp so students can interact with it more fully, but he said they’ve already made solid progress. Recently, in class, students could walk around the slit lamp and examine the various buttons, lights, and lenses up close.
“It is an honor to be able to create these virtual classrooms and a slit lamp with Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, the leading eye hospital in the United States,” said Rudolph, who focuses on developing human-centric extended reality applications.
Reyes is now acting as a teaching assistant for the course’s third rotation and said they seem to get more involved in the course’s presentations with each new group of students. dr Alabiad said this shows the novel course offers other benefits as well.
“In addition to teaching ophthalmology, students in this course also learned how to teach others in VR, skills that go far beyond the realm of ophthalmology,” he added.
Meanwhile, Barthelemy hopes she’ll soon be able to don a headset in her anatomy classes and work on a cadaver in virtual reality to deepen her knowledge of organs and tissues in the human body.
“If we could use this technology to practice our suturing and surgical skills, it would be extremely helpful,” she said.