Study anatomy with virtual reality

The Bern Education Centre for Nursing has been conducting interprofessional learning events for some time. An existing offer provides medical students of the University of Bern and nursing students of the Berner Bildungszentrum Pflege with special knowledge of anatomy. This has now been supplemented with virtual reality The use of virtual reality glasses is not only a big topic in the field of entertainment media. There is also a tendency to use this technology more in education and training(Schlegel C. & Weber, 2019). Virtual reality (VR) offers students the opportunity to be trained effectively, close to reality and at low cost. VR has been defined as a computer-generated digital environment with which one can interact – as if the situation were real (Reif, Walch, & Wulz, 2007). Currently, the applications of VR glasses in education are still in the early stages of development. At the Berner Bildungszentrum Pflege (BZ Pflege), the potential of VR glasses in education and training was recognised early on, so that various teaching and learning settings have already been developed(Schlegel, Geering, & Weber, 2020). For example, nursing students explore the anatomy of the heart and its diseases by taking virtual tours of the inside of the heart. To further establish the use of VR glasses at the BZ Pflege, the method was integrated into an existing interprofessional learning event. This is a setting in which nursing students from the BZ Pflege and medical students from the University of Bern jointly study anatomy. The focus of the course is on the virtual exploration of the gastrointestinal tract. For those responsible, the central question is whether learning with VR glasses has a stimulating effect on the students when it comes to making contact with other participants and promoting discussion. Even though the education of students from different health professions still takes place in so-called learning silos – i.e. mostly without interprofessional exchange – educational institutions are increasingly recognising the need for change(Herrmann, Woermann, & C., 2014). Patients have interprofessional needs, and therefore interprofessional teaching and learning settings are also required in education. In clinical practice, doctors and nurses need to work together. Students of nursing and medicine acquire expertise and skills that are important for the practice of their own profession, but the preparation for teamwork – with regard to interprofessional cooperation – is insufficient. In professional practice, this can lead to misunderstandings and it promotes professional protectionism. Interprofessional teaching courses are therefore an opportunity, and they have a positive effect on cooperation between the different professional groups in the health care system(Herrmann, et al., 2014). The elective course mentioned above is aimed at students in their second year of training. 25 medical students and 25 nursing students take part in the event. They are given half a day to explore the gastrointestinal tract together. The aim is, on the one hand, to learn anatomy together and, on the other hand, to get to know the learning culture of the other professional group. All students are on the same hierarchical level in this setting and their contributions have the same value. There is an exchange of knowledge, different perspectives, mutual appreciation and recognition are to be promoted.

Sequence of the whole course

To learn about the anatomy of the gastrointestinal tract, the students are provided with three different stations during one afternoon. At the first station, they have the opportunity to explore specially prepared organs of a human body and feel them. At the second station, the students examine each other with ultrasound to explore their organs in the abdomen. At the third station, the virtual tour of the organs of the gastrointestinal tract is made possible with the VR glasses. With these three stations, the nursing and medical students got to know the organs from different perspectives. The virtual tour of the organs is conducted using the VR headset Oculus Rift S (2019) and the free anatomy programme Sharecare, ©2020 Inc.(Arnold, 2020) will be used. All participants will have the opportunity to explore the anatomy of the gastrointestinal tract with the VR glasses, view the organs from the outside and explore them from the inside. If one person is equipped with the VR glasses and in action, the other members of the professionally mixed group can follow their actions on the monitor (first-person view). With the help of learning questions about anatomy, the participants are also encouraged to discuss the various structures. At the same time, they link their knowledge from the three stations and exchange ideas. Students can have an interprofessional educational experience in this course, which focuses on learning the anatomy of the gastrointestinal tract using a virtual world.

Graph 1: Screenshot virtual representation of the colon, ©2020 Sharecare, Inc

Fig. 2: Screenshot virtual representation of the stomach, ©2020 Sharecare, Inc.

Evaluation of the VR station

The students n=50 were invited to participate in a voluntary survey after the group work. For this purpose, the instrument “New Learning design in distance education: The impact on student perception and motivation”(Martens R., Bastiaens, & Kirschner, 2007). The evaluation showed that a pedagogically meaningful use of the VR glasses arouses the students’ curiosity about the topic to be worked on and supports their explorative learning. Furthermore, the use of the VR glasses stimulates learning with others and encourages professional discussions. Even if only one person in the group has the VR glasses on and is in action, the remaining members learn through precise observation. 92 percent of the students declared that learning with VR glasses is new to them, and 87 percent of them enjoy it.

Graph 1: Survey scores on exploratory learning

Graph 2: Survey scores on stimulation to connect with others

Graph 3: Survey scores on stimulating professional discussion

Graph 4: Survey scores on observing others


Educational institutions for health professions are increasingly developing interprofessional curricula and courses. The use of VR technology can be a way to actively bring students from different health professions together. Learning needs to be designed so that students can acquire skills such as information literacy, critical thinking, communication and reflection. In addition to pedagogical know-how, this requires the appropriate technology, which is complex but also increasingly “user-friendly”. The responsible teachers must therefore acquire the pedagogical know-how so that they can use VR technology in a meaningful way.


  1. Arnold, G. (2020). Know your body Retrieved 18.03.2020, fromhttps://
  2. Herrmann, G., Woermann, U., & C., S. (2014). Interprofessional Education in Anatomy: Learning Together in Medical and Nursing Training Interprofessional Education in Anatomy, 8(4), 324-330.
  3. Martens R., Bastiaens, T., & Kirschner, P. (2007). New Learning Design in Distance Education: The impact on student perception and motivation. Distance Education, 28(1).
  4. Reif, R., Walch, D., & Wulz, J. (2007). Use of Virtual and Augmented Reality: Study on human-integrated simulation and process support in logistics environments. In ForLog (Ed.), Bavarian Research Association.
  5. Schlegel, C., Geering, A., & Weber, U. (2020). Virtual Realty enhances reality, 73(1-2), 57-61.
  6. Schlegel C., & Weber, U. (2019). Learning with virtual reality: a hype in nursing education? Pedagogy of the Health Professions 3(6), 182-186.
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AUTHOR: Uwe Weber

Uwe Weber, MME (Bern) is head of the media education department at the Berner Bildungszentrum Pflege.

AUTHOR: Claudia Schlegel

Dr. Claudia Schlegel, MME (Bern) is co-leader of the learning area Training and Transfer at the Berner Bildungszentrum Pflege.

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