Can Virtual Reality Help Calgary’s Front-Line Fight COVID-19? 

This winter term, and in partnership with ICOM Productions Ltd., the School of Health and Wellness has launched its new virtual reality respiratory assessment platform for Practical Nursing students. Bow Valley College is embracing the digital revolution and is leading the way by implementing technology in its Practical Nurse Diploma program.

The new virtual reality (VR) platform has been integrated into specific nursing courses, providing graduates valuable insight into what they will find when they see patients in the real world. More than 200 practical nursing students have already completed coursework with integrated VR. The application contains avatar patients, ranging in age and ethnicity, each programmed to have a respiratory condition. Instead of practising on other healthy peers, nursing students can now learn and differentiate “real” symptoms without requiring real patients. The diversity of the avatars is also vital, so future nurses can gain experience working with a diverse group of patients.

The tool has an evaluation capability that makes it far easier to provide objective feedback to students who miss a step or draw an inaccurate conclusion. There is also hope that this tool helps students who have classroom anxiety because they are fully immersed in a new environment where it’s just them and their patient – much like in a healthcare environment.

Program leads are still developing additional scenarios for multiple body systems to enhance this accelerated learning application.

This technology will help students to develop the skills they will need to be work-ready, benefiting graduates of the program who will be entering into a competitive field, their employers, and most importantly, their patients. Bow Valley College’s role in developing and implementing an application like this is part of an ongoing commitment to advance curriculum using emerging artificial intelligence, as well as virtual and augmented reality technologies. Further, Bow Valley College continues to be invested in Calgary’s future, particularly as we face this pandemic together.

With COVID-19 being our community’s top priority, the School of Health and Wellness is confident that this technology can be used in multiple ways to support frontline workers as well. Originally developed to solve problems, the College believes this tool may also be a suitable training resource for community organizations who are facing increased pressure to function as healthcare providers.

“This technology can be used to quickly support the need for health care workers, during this pandemic and students to enhance their skills in assessment and care for a patient with respiratory issues,” explains Nora MacLachlan, Dean of Health and Community Studies. “We have this technology, and we are eager to partner with organizations to build capacity in our community.” 

To learn more, to share your ideas, or to collaborate for a community initiative, please contact Nora MacLachlan at 

If you’d like to hear more about this trailblazing project, please contact Tasneem Rahim at


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