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Second Life Used to Train Med Students

There's no question that Second Life isn't a game. In fact, the virtual social world has transformed into somewhat of an entity, a way of life for many of its fans, and a useful platform for musicians, colleges, and universities since its launch back in 2003. Now the Imperial College London, among other institutions, is using the 3-D realm to prepare its students in health-care training programs.

As reported by DISCOVER Magazine, the institution has built a virtual hospital--complete with a Respiratory ward, an operating room, and an O.R.--that enables students to order tests, listen to a patient's chest, diagnose problems, and virtually perform most of the tasks carried out in the real world. Although virtual simulations have been used for years as a part of medical training, students apparently prefer the Second Life approach.

“No kid wants to put in a CD-ROM and do a set sim--they want interactivity and social networking,” said John Miller, a nursing instructor who created the Nursing Education Simulation (YouTube video) used within Second Life. “SL takes what’s great about simulations and gives them that social aspect. It’s more like real life.”

However critics have questioned the health-care education simulations in Second Life, saying that too little research has been done to see if the virtual tasks actually educate the students. But universities such as Imperial College London have been gathering evidence on the virtual world's effectiveness on its students.

“We tested [the virtual O.R.] in a controlled experiment on 40 first-year medical students prior to their first visit to a real O.R," reports ICL's David Taylor, director of virtual worlds and medical media in the Department of Biosurgery and Surgical Technology. "We wanted to determine if [the SL program] gives them more confidence before their first exposure to the real thing. We’ve found it is just as effective as the training O.R. in the physical world.”