Bangor University boosts x-ray training with VR technology

Virtual reality headsets and video gaming graphics are being used by Bangor University to train the next generation of x-ray radiographers in north Wales. The Wrexham campus has a new computer programme that enables students to use VR to learn how to take x-rays.

“Like all radiography courses we are limited by the amount of actual x-rays students can take because of exposure to ionising radiation,” said course lead for diagnostic radiography Delyth Hughes. “This VR system means those limits no longer apply because we aren’t actually taking an x-ray but we can still see the results. One of the most important things students have to learn is how to position so that the x-ray will be taken at the right angle to show any possible issues with the patient. Using VR, the student can position a virtual patient and then see if they’ve got it right without any of those issues of expense and exposure.”

X-ray in progress.
Hughes, Fox-Pritchard and Morris x-ray a virtual patient. Credit: Mandy Jones Photography.

The software system was pioneered in Christchurch in New Zealand. Ara Institute of Canterbury lecturer in medical imaging James Hayes is behind for the idea after asking the institute’s programming experts to develop the software. “I asked them to make it so that it looked like a virtual reality x-ray room rather than a virtual reality game. They said within reason and I said ‘well let’s not say within reason, let’s say we want to make it identical’,” he explained.

Virtual reality x-ray.
Virtual reality x-ray. Credit: Mandy Jones Photography.

Meanwhile Bangor University has increased the size of its first year intake of student radiographers by a quarter to 35 to help meet a shortage in the NHS.

“Usually it would be too dangerous to x-ray unnecessarily, so the system uses a virtual patient,” Hughes added. “Virtual reality offers our students an engaging and safe way to learn and practise because everything is identical to the real world in terms of size, distance and procedures. It offers audio, visual and sensory feedback so the students will be able to see and feel, just as if they were working with a real patient.”

Lead picture: Course lead for diagnostic radiography Delyth Hughes and lecturer Lisa Fox-Pritchard check out a virtual patient. Credit: Mandy Jones Photography.

Published on the front page of the November 2021 issue of RAD Magazine.

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