Wright State nursing professor wins federal research grant

Nursing professor Sherry Farra

Sherry Farra, assistant professor in the College of Nursing and Health.

A Wright State University nursing faculty member has received a federal grant to study the impact virtual reality may have on disaster training of newborn ICU personnel.

Sherry Farra, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the College of Nursing and Health, received a three-year grant of more than $730,000 from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Farra will collaborate with researchers from the University of Cincinnati and Miami University and with doctors and staff at Cincinnati Children’s Health Medical Center, where the study will be conducted. The hospital has a large neonatology department and a 55-bed Level IV newborn intensive care unit (NICU).

The researchers will study whether virtual reality training can be an effective and alternative way to prepare people to evacuate a NICU during an emergency.

“If we can show this is a way to train people, and it’s as effective, or even more effective, than traditional (training methods), we’ll be able to train more people and be able to train them more efficiently for some of these events,” Farra said.

Virtual reality is a computer-simulated environment that can replicate physical presence in places in the real world or imagined worlds. It can recreate sensory experiences, including virtual sight, sound and touch.

To conduct the study, Farra and her team will design a virtual reality simulation based on Cincinnati Children’s NICU. Participants will wear a visor-like head-mounted display and use hand controllers to manipulate, interact with and move around in the environment and go through an evacuation procedure.

“It’s an attempt to make it as immersive as possible,” Farra said.

Traditional live evacuation exercises can be costly and typically touch a very small number of staff, while training through virtual reality allows everybody to participate, Farra said.

“Everybody gets that experience of evacuating and becomes more familiar with the processes,” she said.

Farra, who received an M.S. in nursing from Wright State and a Ph.D. in nursing from the University of Cincinnati, joined the College of Nursing and Health last fall.

Playing video games with her son inspired her interest in using virtual reality and online technology as a learning strategy.

She thinks that learning through gaming and computer-simulated environments will continue to grow in academia and health care settings, especially as the price of technology and equipment declines.

“We’re looking for more and more ways to engage students,” she said.

“It is fun, and it is very engaging,” she added. “I’ve never had anybody say ‘Oh, I don’t want to do virtual reality simulation today. That’s boring.’”

But Farra said more research on virtual reality training is needed to better understand if it can be effective. She is doing her part.

Her dissertation examined the effects of triage training on nursing students in Second Life, an online virtual world. Her study found that students who trained in Second Life retained information longer when compared to those who went through traditional learning methods.

In another experiment, she created a virtual environment for decontamination training on the Kinect for Xbox 360 gaming system. The study also found that those who trained virtually better retained the information.

“That linkage between the movement and performing the skill and actually doing the task was very, very strong in the participants,” Farra said.

She also conducted an interprofessional study in which interactive media students worked with nursing students to develop a virtual reality simulation.

In addition to teaching at Wright State, Ferra is a research consultant to the chief nurse of the American Red Cross and serves as a Red Cross regional nurse leader for the Dayton and Cincinnati regions and on the Clinton County chapter’s board of directors.

She is also co-director of CONH’s National Disaster Health Consortium, an innovative disaster preparedness program for nurses, other health care professionals and first responders. Participants will learn basic disaster life support, disaster leadership principles, first aid, how to provide psychological support and how to prioritize injuries.

“I think it’s going to be really successful in helping to get people trained to work together to respond to disasters,” Farra said.

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