An Exploration of Nursing Students Perceptions and Experiences of Learning About Homelessness Through Fieldwork and Virtual Reality

Funded by: The Institute of Health Sciences Education (IHSE), McGill Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS)

Co-Principal Investigators: Elizabeth Anne Kinsella, PhD; Niki Soilis, MA

Co-Investigators: Françoise Filion, RN, MSc(N); Jason Harley, PhD; Dr. Farhan Bhanji, MD, MSc (Ed); Fernanda Claudio, MSc, PhD; Laurence Roy, PhD; Vivetha Thambinathan, PhD; Nadja Benmohamed, MD

Homelessness is a significant public health issue, and community-based fieldwork is one of many important educational strategies to teach emerging health professionals how to care for populations in situations of vulnerability. This approach has provided opportunities for nursing students to experience firsthand the social aspects of care in the formative part of their training, while increasing their confidence to work with underserved groups. Previous research has demonstrated that following fieldwork, nursing students reported more favourable attitudes towards individuals experiencing homelessness, greater awareness of psychosocial aspects of health, and increased introspection on beliefs, biases and assumptions towards individuals experiencing homelessness.

Innovative educational approaches are required for a new era of professional education that advances transformative learning and creates health professionals prepared to meet the needs of underserved populations. Virtual reality (VR) is currently being recognized as a transformative pedagogical tool. VR offers a unique capacity to construct a different viewpoint into one’s visual field in order to see the world through the eyes of others, for instance, people experiencing homelessness. These experiences reportedly foster the ability to understand another’s point of view, increase favourable attitudes, and promote greater disposition to engage in helping behaviours. Nonetheless, the evidence is lacking on what role VR might play in preparing emerging health professionals to work with underserved populations, such as people experiencing homelessness. Our study aims to fill a gap in the existing literature by advancing our understanding of students perceptions of learning about homelessness through a combined VR experience and fieldwork experience in homeless shelters.

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