5 Teams Changing Career Education: Meet Embodied Labs

This post is the second of a special “5 Teams Changing Career Education” series, featuring Q&A with the EdSim Challenge finalists. These solutions demonstrate the exciting potential for an ecosystem of next-generation simulations to strengthen in-demand career skills. 

Our second post features a Q&A with Carrie Shaw, CEO & Medical Illustrator at Embodied Labs. Embodied Labs is an embodied patient experience lab that uses virtual reality to train students to become better caregivers of aging populations.

What inspired you to create this educational VR/AR experience?                                           

Ten years ago, I was a freshman in college when my mom was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. For her decade-long journey of cognitive decline and the caregiving that followed, I always wished that I could step into her world. I felt that if this were possible, I would be able to better understand my mom’s disease and become a more effective care provider for her. Five years into her journey with the disease, I was living at home and tasked with hiring her first in-home caregivers. My mom happened to have a left visual field impairment. I struggled to explain to her caregivers that it wasn’t that she couldn’t see out of her left eye, but that she couldn’t see out of the left visual fields in both eyes. I wound up making a pair of training goggles where I blocked the left halves of each side by tapping them up with masking tape. By putting these goggles on, her caregivers could immediately understand what she was experiencing, which empowered them to better care for her. They could immediately see why they should always walk on the left side of her body and the reason for her always eating exactly half of her plate of food at meal time. These goggles however, had a flaw – they could only simulate one aspect of what was a much more complex condition.

After teaching health education for about 5 years, I returned to graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in Biomedical Visualization. My thesis research focused on this now nearly decade old question: If healthcare providers in training could step into their patient’s worlds, would this make them more effective care providers? As I was working on this research, I met the three people that would later become my cofounders: Tom, the developer, Ryan, the VR filmmaker, and Erin, the curriculum designer. We found a common interest in the potential of emerging technologies to create better communication between people, ultimately leading to meaningful change. While we were prototyping solutions to my thesis research question, we stumbled across the medium of virtual reality and realized it had the unique potential to accurately simulate the patient experience from a first-person perspective. Together we created The Alfred Lab.

How will your concept help students prepare for future careers?                               

Until VR, there has not been a tool that could as effectively place a person into someone else’s world nor a medium that is as able to accurately simulate the first-person patient perspective. The platform and VR modules that we are creating for this Challenge will situate the abstract, complex concept of understanding another person’s perception of the world in a way that will connect the students to concrete, real-world applications and uncover new insight.

The modules we are creating for this Challenge focus on educating students about the aging experience. Through embodying the first person perspective of a patient with vision, hearing, and cognitive impairments as well as observing patients through immersive, interactive 360-degree documentaries, students will learn how to deconstruct stereotypes of aging by taking the perspective of older adult patients with common age-related health conditions.

These experiences will help students understand the basic concepts around disease pathology and comorbidities of an aging patient as well as the challenges of spoken and written communication for an aging patient. These experiences will also give students exposure to a wide range of health sciences careers, including professions such as being a geriatrician, nurse, art therapist, social worker, optometrist, or vision rehabilitation therapist, to name a few. Through this exposure, students will be able to evaluate whether a career in healthcare is the right fit for them.

These modules will also teach students about several CCTC career ready practices. By embodying another person, the student will better be able to understand the life of someone different than themselves. This will give students the ability to think about decisions that are best for the community at large, rather than for only themselves. This experience will also give students the ability to learn communication skills that will help them engage with the aging population. Within the VR modules, students will experience that way the patient, the patient’s family, and the patient’s caregivers made up of doctors, nurses, and home health aides all work together the provide effective, team-based care.