A reality check for midwifery

Nurse/midwife Jessica Williams, a lecturer and tutor in the school of nursing and midwifery at the University of ...
Nurse/midwife Jessica Williams, a lecturer and tutor in the school of nursing and midwifery at the University of Newcastle, using the Virtual Reality headset with Erin Bonett, a second-year bachelor of midwifery student at UOW. Photo: Supplied

Nurse/midwife Jessica Williams expected that wearing a virtual reality headset to navigate a simulated medical emergency scenario would amount to an experience along the lines of Facebook360 video technology but she was struck by the vividness of the immersive world she inhabited.

Williams, today, is at the forefront of introducing VR to the future midwives she teaches at the University of Newcastle (UON).

These students are the first in the world to use a virtual neonatal resuscitation scenario as part of their study.

With the headset on, they practice midwifery techniques in a simulated hospital setting that's occupied with staff, sick baby, family and the equipment and surroundings they will encounter in their careers.

"I was completely transported," says Williams of her first VR experience. "Even though it's obvious it's virtual reality, everything is as accurately represented as it could be." Williams is a lecturer and tutor in the school of nursing and midwifery at the University of Newcastle.

She is presently collecting preliminary feedback about the technology from her students, to explore its strengths and limitations.

"You might not be able to grab a mask and put it on a baby or adjust an oxygen level and that sort of stuff but it helps you really learn to think, 'Alright, before the baby's even born, what do I need to do to make sure I'm ready?"'

Williams, a registered nurse and midwife for a decade, has a bachelor of nursing and master of midwifery studies from UON and she is the 2014 winner of UON's School of Nursing and Midwifery prize for master of midwifery studies.

She has been an educator at UON since 2013 and is presently completing her PhD, which investigates how VR impacts on students' confidence and stress levels in neonatal resuscitation.


She emphasises that VR is not a panacea or a replacement for existing student learning methods but she is seeking to better illuminate its potential to enrich overall midwifery training and education.

"In 10 years' time it's going to be other universities wanting to purchase these sorts of programs from the universities that developed them," she says.

Erin Bonett is a second-year bachelor of midwifery student at UON. She has used the VR technology at home to practice responding to the newborn resuscitation scenario as much as she needs.

"I think this virtual reality is like a stepping stone between the classroom and real life," says Bonett.

Telsyte Australian VR & AR Market Study 2017 indicates that more than half of Australian small and medium businesses are investigating or strategising the development of VR applications, with the healthcare industry one of the early adopters.

"It's never-ending, the world of technology and the new ways we can try to help our students learn and integrate those learning methods into the classroom," Williams says.