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Meet ‘Angry Stan’, the new VR tool helping students resolve conflict

A new “world first” virtual reality simulator is aiming to equip student nurses at the University of Newcastle with conflict resolution skills.

The VR program replicates a real-world emergency room and asks students to respond to a high-pressure mock scenario. The program, a collaboration between the School of Nursing and Midwifery and the University’s IT Services Innovation Team, is the first of its kind to respond to real-time biofeedback – for example, the human heart rate.

Violence against healthcare workers is on the rise in Australia and tools such as this could help clinicians deescalate potentially dangerous situations.

NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research recorded 361 violent incidents in hospitals in 2015 and 521 last year.

As reported by the ABCthe Victorian Crime Statistics Agency recorded 335 assaults on healthcare premises in 2015 – last year the figure was 539. Victoria also saw a 60 per cent increase in assaults on nurses recorded over the last three years.

The Queensland Heath Department records report the number of incidents of violence and threats in hospitals at a staggering 5,514 – a 48 per cent rise during the last three years.

As part of their mental health module, the students are faced with ‘Angry Stan’ – the VR avatar – through their VR headsets. They are faced with a number of situations and must remain calm and navigate the challenges, based on real life scenarios. The simulations aim to give students insight into the clinical workplace, and they can practice managing conflict and building resilience.

Project lead and lecturer in the School of Nursing and Midwifery Dr Donovan Jones said: "Working in an emergency environment can be incredibly demanding, with emotions running high and competing priorities.

“Knowing how to effectively diffuse an escalating situation while keeping a clear head can make a life-changing difference in emergency care, which is why we want to ensure our graduates are well equipped with resilience training when entering the workforce.”

Mike Hazelton, Professor of Mental Health Nursing, formed part of the team to develop Angry Stan based on his very real, lived-experience.

“Stan represents someone health workers may come face-to-face with in an emergency environment. He is looking for his friend who has been brought in as a patient and is becoming increasingly agitated,” Hazelton said.

“We support zero tolerance for violence against healthcare workers, which is why it was imperative to develop an immersive training program where students can practise dealing with these potential situations in a safe, repeatable and realistic environment."

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