Midwifery students use virtual reality to learn the stages of pregnancy with 3D female figure

MIDWIFERY students at the University of Newcastle are going beyond textbooks, dolls and diagrams to learn about the stages of pregnancy via a virtual window into the human body.

The world-first virtual reality technology, developed by the university’s School of Nursing and Midwifery and IT Innovation team, is giving students a visual insight into the internal stages of childbearing, and its effect on the human body.

With a digital headset, students can explore and observe the gestational stages of a detailed, life-sized 3D female figure without any visual barriers.

It will help to bridge the gap between the classroom and the delivery suite, and signifies a huge step for health practitioners and expectant parents globally, project lead and midwifery lecturer, Donovan Jones, said.

“It allows students to experience immersive learning, rather than just reading text on a screen, or text in a book,” he said.

“We can show them what happens when a baby is not in an ideal position for birth.

“At the moment we teach with dolls and pelvises, and I can tell you firsthand from being a student, as well as an educator, the position of the placenta is one of the hardest things to learn, and yet it’s absolutely one of the most imperative things to know.

“If a midwife can’t identify its position and lets the woman go into natural labour with the baby obstructed, the baby’s life is at serious risk.”

About one-in-25 babies are born in a breech position, and one-in-100 present at a problematic angle for birth. 

This technology, being trialled at the university’s Newcastle and Port Macquarie campuses, could significantly transform the future of midwifery education, Mr Jones said.

“Not only will this application introduce them to the realism of anatomy, but it bridges the gap between the classroom and delivery suite to ensure cognitive resilience, which is going to make them perform better under pressure,” he said.

With the university, Mr Donovan has been working alongside the CSIRO to potentially move the technology into the commercial market.

It could be adopted by other fields of medical education, as well as health practitioners and patients.

“We’re breaking new ground. It is not just about teaching, but about collecting the evidence to show why learning this way is so beneficial for students,” he said.

Students can take the technology home and use it on a smart phone or tablet, to learn at their own pace.

“We did some student interviews last year to see what they thought of it, and they absolutely love it,” Mr Donovan said. “They can even share it and use it with the women they are caring for during pregnancy.”