Using virtual reality in medical education to teach empathy

Elizabeth Dyer, Barbara J. Swartzlander, Marilyn R. Gugliucci


Objective: The project adopted technology that teaches medical and other health professions students to be empathic with older adults, through virtual reality (VR) software that allows them to simulate being a patient with age-related diseases, and to familiarize medical students with information resources related to the health of older adults.

Methods: The project uses an application that creates immersive VR experiences for training of the workforce for aging services. Users experience age-related conditions such as macular degeneration and high-frequency hearing loss from the patient’s perspective. Librarians and faculty partner to integrate the experience into the curriculum, and students go to the library at their convenience to do the VR assignment.

Results: The project successfully introduced an innovative new teaching modality to the medical, physician assistant, physical therapy, and nursing curricula. Results show that VR enhanced students’ understanding of age-related health problems and increased their empathy for older adults with vision and hearing loss or Alzheimer’s disease.

Conclusion: VR immersion training is an effective teaching method to help medical and health professions students develop empathy and is a budding area for library partnerships. As the technology becomes more affordable and accessible, it is important to develop best practices for using VR in the library.

This article was selected by the Virtual Projects Advisory Committee of technology experts after an annual call for projects in MLA-FOCUS and announcements to encourage submissions from all types of libraries.


Virtual Reality; Medical Education; Physician Assistant; Empathy; Older Adults; Age-Related Diseases; Faculty-Librarian Collaboration

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Batt-Rawden SA, Chisolm MS, Anton B, Flickinger TE. Teaching empathy to medical students: an updated, systematic review. Acad Med. 2013 Aug;88(8):1171–7. DOI:



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Copyright (c) 2018 Elizabeth Jane Dyer, Barbara J. Swartzlander, Marilyn R. Gugliucci

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