September 15, 2022

This story is one in a series of three profiling UBC students who are presenting projects at the International Conference of Undergraduate Research (ICUR) Sept. 27 to 29. Hosting the in-person and online gathering focused on approaching research from an interdisciplinary perspective are England’s University of Warwick and Monash University in Australia. Students had to apply for approval as a presenter.

To create an impactful mixed-reality guidance platform for clinical skills training, Vanessa Lo collaborated with engineering and computer science students on immersive technology in healthcare. She will present a PowerPoint, supplemented with a one-minute demo video illustrating the research at ICUR, with her colleague Rohith Krishnamurthy. “It’s been very rewarding to watch our concept come to fruition,” Lo says, “from ideation, development and a finished proof of concept to recruiting participants to test our platform — and also to inspire a start-up company.”

Lo is a fourth year nursing student at UBC Okanagan. Originally from Vancouver, the 21 year old worked this past summer as a student nurse at Burnaby hospital, and an intern at the BC Patient Safety and Quality Council with Northern Health. She was also the team lead for UBC School of Engineering’s Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Impact Program, which grants startups $10,000 in seed funding to jumpstart their venture. After graduation, Lo plans to complete an internship in Mombasa, Kenya, and return to Canada to work in public health, with the goal of working for the United Nations one day. She also plans to continue her research work. We spoke to Lo about her research and findings.

Portrait of Vanessa Lo  (photo: Vanessa Lo)

Vanessa Lo is a fourth year nursing student at UBC Okanagan (photo: Vanessa Lo)

What the problem is:
The quality of clinical skills training and education have suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic due to limited lab availability and education being primarily delivered virtually. We were looking for a way to give students supplemental training to help consolidate the clinical skills learned in lab to increase students’ confidence in performing these critical skills.

How this research can help:
We found that a mixed reality (integration between virtual and augmented-reality) guidance platform could be an effective way to train repetitively and make sure students have learned skills thoroughly. The tool won’t allow you to proceed to the next step until the one prior is done correctly. You can practice the skill on the platform as many times as you like. Our platform is mixed reality based, meaning there is a mergence between our real world along with virtual components (holograms) to produce an environment where digital and physical objects interact in real time. It's great because our tool caters to different learning styles. There are four combinations of modes you can select: audio, text, human,and agent. The audio mode allows the device itself to speak instructions, while the text mode displays visual instructions. The human mode allows instructors to manually clear you through each round, and can serve as an effective evaluative option. The agent mode is the device itself guiding students’ through each step of the skill.

Watch a demonstration of how virtual and augmented-reality can be used to train students practical skills (video: Vanessa Lo)

Overarching goal:
Our research work sought to 1) Design a mixed-reality solution to train students where physical lab time, medical supplies and instructor presence are not necessarily required and to 2) Determine whether our platform is effective as a supplement to physical lab time in enhancing knowledge and consolidation of clinical skills. We recognize the importance of consistent practice as it helps builds confidence, allowing students to feel more prepared when entering clinical rotations.

What’s next?
Our post user-study survey assessed usefulness, ease of use, user satisfaction, trust, reliability and personal preference of the different modes. In terms of usefulness, user satisfaction and trust, the agent-text option was the most well received. For ease of use, there was a tie-breaker between agent-text and agent audio. For reliability, there was also a tie-breaker between agent-text and human text. In terms of audio vs. text preference, there was again a tie breaker between the two options. For user preference, agent mode was significantly preferred over human mode. Moving forward, we hope to translate our knowledge, findings and data into a final research paper and present at more conferences in the future.

Piece of advice:
It is impossible to replace in-person labs, however, we can definitely find new and innovative ways to supplement in person training and help students become more confident in their practice.

I’ve always wanted to go into healthcare. In grade 2, I watched “Operation Smile” on TV, where doctors did pro bono surgeries in Africa for children with cleft palates, cleft lips and facial tumors. I had no idea that a medical team could change a person’s life physically, mentally, socially and emotionally with just one surgery. It was such an amazing impact, and that’s when I knew that I wanted a future in the healthcare field. I hope that one day I will be able to make the same impact that medical team did for those children.

Learn more about the International Conference of Undergraduate Research.

Find out about UBC Okanagan’s School of Nursing


  • Issues of Global Relevance
  • Students as Global Citizens