When William Harding started his undergraduate degree in Nursing, he witnessed medication errors during students’ transition from learners to healthcare providers. This got him thinking about how to better prepare nursing students for clinical practice and how to update nurses when practice changes. 

Bernard Mark Garrett
UBC Public Scholars Award

“We all know that healthcare is rapidly changing in terms of the types of treatments available and the new procedures and guidelines associated with them. I thought about how we could improve our simulation education, and my interest in technology led me to explore how virtual reality could be used as a simulation tool,” said the UBC doctoral student, who has partnered with Dr. Agnes Black and Sandra Squire at Providence Health Care for this project. 

A significant hurdle that novice nurses experience is safely administering medications for the first time, or when the dosing or labeling of medications changes. Medication errors can cause serious harm to patients and result in added healthcare costs. “If we replicate nursing units where they look real and they feel real to nursing students, I think that we will increase nursing students’ familiarity with their environment which will improve their competence and confidence going into clinical situations,” he explained. 

According to William, immersive virtual reality simulations are a novel technology in nursing, so much so that even explaining the work he is doing can be challenging. However, William hopes that nursing educators can work with emerging technology experts to integrate innovations like virtual reality simulations to enhance nursing education and ultimately, improve patient outcomes.

“When you work in virtual spaces, you can design the simulation so that the simulation program keeps track of people's decisions and provides them with individualized feedback based on what they did. That type of feedback typically requires a significant time investment for educational schools, to have instructors sit down with each of their students and give feedback. If you can partially automate that system, to support instructors in providing individualized feedback, you allow more resources to be put into the development and evaluation of high-quality simulations,” he added. 

William hopes to make the tool readily available for nursing scholars and healthcare professionals, initially in BC, starting with a prototype in a year’s time. Through this project, the doctoral student hopes to decrease medication errors in Canada, especially in the Lower Mainland. 

“The main impact that I want to see is that patient care is improved, and that patients’ outcomes improve as a result of the virtual reality simulation. By creating standardized virtual reality simulations, we allow for dialogue for healthcare educators, administrators, and clinicians to push the quality of healthcare to a new level, locally and nationally,” he concluded. 

Research Description

My research investigates how virtual reality technologies can be utilized to prepare nursing students for clinical practice experiences. I am collaborating with key stakeholders from Providence Health Care to create an educational virtual reality simulation. The virtual reality simulation will be based upon an existing nursing unit and will focus on training nursing students to safely prepare medications. My collaborators and I are exploring if training nursing students in a virtual reality simulation that matches an existing nursing unit can increase the nursing students’ familiarity with the hospital environment. By providing nursing students with a realistic virtual reality environment to train their clinical skills, we hope to reduce medical errors and improve patient outcomes.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

Being a Public Scholar means that my research is orientated towards creating positive social change. For me, Public Scholarship is underpinned by a strong desire to benefit my community through collaborative research projects. Consequently, being a Public Scholar requires a commitment to strategically constructing my research projects so that the findings are useful and valuable to Canadians. I believe that Public Scholarship is an essential component of good science as we should always strive to contribute to our local -and global- communities by finding new ways to integrate research outcomes into society for the benefit of all.

In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?

The Public Scholars Initiative enhances the Ph.D. experience by providing its Public Scholars with valuable opportunity to receive training and mentorship. In addition, the Public Scholars Initiative supports Public Scholars in networking with the general public, policymakers, knowledge users, and academics. These relationships profoundly impact Public Scholar’s work by promoting a re-imagined approach to research in which collaborative research is realized as a mechanism for positive social change. I believe that my Ph.D. experience will be enriched through many valuable opportunities provided the Public Scholars Initiatives such as workshops, mentorship, and networking events. Moreover, I believe that being a part of the Public Scholarship community will promote my personal development as a Public Scholar and subsequently, profoundly impact my Ph.D. experience and future career.

How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?

My doctoral work represents an opportunity to leverage virtual reality technologies to improve patient outcomes. I envision that health care systems will likely adopt virtual reality simulations as a training tool for staff and students in the next ten years. I hope that through my Public Scholars Initiative work, I can build connections with educators, industry partners, and health care administrators so that we can collaboratively develop high-quality training simulations to prepare health care professionals for new policy and procedures across Canada. This enterprise will also build connections between educational institutions and health care systems which will, in turn, facilitate the uptake of evidence-based practice. I envision that collaborative development of virtual reality simulations between health care systems and educational institutions will be of symbiotic benefit. Educational institutions will better prepare students for clinical practice as their educational simulations will more closely replicate real-life clinical practice settings and practices. Conversely, health care systems will be supported in their efforts to adopt practice changes based upon best available evidence as future generations of health care professionals will be able to receive training for new procedures and policies as they are implemented in practice settings. This program of research will create new career possibilities for educators, key stakeholders, and public partners.

How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?

In my Public Scholars Initiative research project, I am partnering with Providence Health Care administrators and educators. We are currently developing a virtual reality simulation to train in how to safely prepare medications using a new electronic medical record. We plan on incorporating patient partner groups when we develop virtual reality simulations involving patient care. However, at this time our research is primarily engaging with key community stakeholders at Providence Health Care and the University of British Columbia.

How do you hope your work can make a contribution to the “public good”?

I hope that my work will reduce medication errors in practice and will build nurses’ confidence and competence in safely preparing medications for patients. By integrating virtual reality simulations into health care education system, health care educators will be able to rapidly apply new research into clinical practice which will ensure that patients receive the best care possible. This work also builds the foundations for patient partnerships in health care education as future research will be able to integrate patient perspectives into the development and design of virtual reality simulations to promote patient-centered care.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

Not long after starting my career, I was supervising nursing students in clinical practice settings who were developing the necessary competencies required to provide safe patient care. During these years of clinical practice, I advocated for support in mentoring and preparing nursing students for practice. Collaborative efforts were made by the unit staff to reduce adverse events by building team communication, educating incoming students, and sharing clinical resources. Nonetheless, I continued to witness clinical practice mistakes that negatively impacted Canadians. These experiences made me wonder if there is a safer way to educate developing health care professionals. This question sparked my interest in virtual reality applications in simulation education as virtual reality can provide a realistic environment for novice health care professionals to develop critical competencies without putting patients at risk. To further explore the applications of virtual reality simulations in health care, I decided to pursue graduate studies so that I could receive the training and education required to pursue this interest.

Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?

I decided to study at the University of British Columbia School of Nursing due to the expertise of the nursing faculty in virtual reality, simulation, knowledge translation, and education. Since my admission, I have strategically engaged with UBC’s interdisciplinary community of scholars to cultivate my leadership skills through mentorship, education, and networking opportunities.


Being a Public Scholar means that my research is orientated towards creating positive social change. Public Scholarship is underpinned by a strong desire to benefit my community through collaborative research projects.