Purpose: The radiotherapy (RT) teaching team worked with medical physics (MP) and RT students to develop education workshops in preparing paediatric cancer patients for RT using semi-immersive virtual reality. This provides a precious opportunity for students to engage with patients and their carers in preparing for treatments. Each workshop is led by students under the supervision of academic staff and professionals from both disciplines. Students can sharpen their communication skills and translate what they have learnt in the classroom into actual clinical practice.
Methods: The workshop was structured to help pediatric patients and caregivers familiarize with the RT course. Being able to alleviate their anxiety through addressing their needs would avoid the need of sedation during RT. Using the VERT (Virtual Environment for Radiation Therapy Training), our students designed a ‘rehearsal’, with ‘warm-up’ games for ice-breaking. It was followed by a ‘mission’ based on a storyline of the patient’s favourite cartoon character to introduce him to the treatment procedures. This game-based environment facilitated the engagement and cooperation throughout the activity. Lastly, a simulation was conducted with the patient lying on the couch in the room alone, using immobilization devices identical to those used for treatment. Feedback questionnaires were given to both students and caregivers after the workshop to evaluate the effectiveness of the intended outcomes.
Results: Eight workshops were organized between April-December 2021. All students (n=13) agreed that the experience strengthened their ability to communicate with patients and caregivers, work as a team, and improve their emotional intelligence. The caregivers (n=12) commented that the workshop equipped them with knowledge and resources to support their children throughout RT. Six cases completed uneventfully without sedation.
Conclusion: Utilizing immersive virtual reality to provide experiential education and service, the workshops have achieved the intended objectives that benefited the students, patients and their carers.