BUSM Students Experience Social Determinants of Health Simulator Technology

Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) first-year medical students used virtual 3D technology provided by Virtway, the Virtual Social Determinants of Health Simulator, to participate in a first-of-its-kind role-playing exercise to understand the social determinants of health that frequently prevent lower-income Americans from achieving positive health outcomes.

Led by BUSM’s Pablo Buitron de la Vega, MD, assistant professor of medicine, and BUSM medical students Celia Greenlaw, Lauren Dzera, Oluwatomisin Bello, Andrew Vallejo, the exercise showed how BUSM continues to advance the fields of Community Health and Social Determinants of Health through innovative educational experiences and curricula.  Assistant Dean for Enrichment Suzanne C. Sarfaty, MD, and Associate Dean for Medical Education Priya S. Garg, MD, supported the development and implementation of the initiative.

By working with Virtway, BUSM was able to develop an immersive training environment in which participants can experience some of the day-to-day challenges that people residing in socioeconomically disadvantaged homes face, including stress, lack of access to basic needs and services, and the consequences of both on wellbeing and health outcomes. The collaborative efforts to develop virtual environments will help to better prepare healthcare professionals to provide care to vulnerable populations.

Students were assigned a role and learned the background of one of 20 different individuals facing the social and health effects of hardship. They then went into Virtway’s 3D virtual environments from their own devices where they faced two virtual weeks in the life of their persona (which was condensed into 60 minutes).

The goal for the medical students is to understand the difficulties that socioeconomically disadvantaged families face by immersing into interactions with social services, schools, and healthcare professionals. The findings and results from the simulation will be submitted for publication with an eye toward expanding to other academic institutions throughout the U.S. as well as Central and South America. Beyond this program, Dr. Buitron de la Vega and BUSM will continue to study and adapt medical education to meet and advance the needs of the most vulnerable.