June 1, 2022

Class of 2022: UCalgary undergrad student applies nursing skills and passion for technology into self-taught virtual reality project

Creating a digital replica of UCalgary Nursing’s sim classroom, Dante Luu BN'22 aims to help make health-care education more accessible
Dante Luu BN'22 demos his virtual reality project in the TFDL VR Development Room.
Dante Luu BN'22 demos his virtual reality project in the TFDL VR Development Room. Lynda Sea, Faculty of Nursing

Virtual reality (VR) isn’t a new frontier in health-care simulation; in fact, a lot of simulation training allows physicians and nurses to integrate learning hands-on skills without risk to patients. But for nursing student Dante Luu, who has always been fascinated with digital technologies, it was not so much if but how to be part of that frontier as he explored how to combine his passion for VR and nursing.

“With the world cementing itself in a digital era, I wanted to learn how this emerging technology could be used to innovate our industries like health-care education,” says the recent Bachelor of Nursing graduate. “The goal of my pilot project was to develop a digital twin of one of UCalgary Nursing’s sim rooms. A digital twin aims to improve accessibility and foster understanding of how the space is interacted with and connects with the environment.”

Using the VR development lab at Taylor Family Digital Library (TFDL), under the mentorship of Jed Baker, emerging technology specialist and Carla Ferreira, former nursing practice simulation coordinator at UCalgary Nursing, Luu essentially taught himself to program and build this digital twin and VR replica a sim suite classroom in the faculty’s Clinical Simulation Learning Centre.

Projects like his can help make health-care education more accessible to everyone, no matter their geographical location. As a nursing instructor, Ferreira first expressed to Luu about wanting to find a novel way to introduce new nursing students into the hospital environment sooner (UCalgary students don’t enter into the acute care environment until third year of program).

Luu recalls connecting with Ferreira on that pain point as a student himself. “I remember going through school, the first and second year. My first year was all options classes. That’s where this idea came from of making this a hospital room that Carla could walk through with her students.”

Ferreira says the applications of using VR in teaching is significant. “It not only can be used for orientation purposes for students coming into the simulation center but also for community members external to the university who are interested in seeing (and experiencing) the resources we have in the faculty. For students, we can use VR to introduce them to the environment and create that safe space to explore so that when they're actually in the environment, they're not so scared about what they're seeing which hopefully keeps them to stay curious.”

Creating this VR space was no small feat considering Luu did so during his final year of the nursing program which includes juggling his last clinical preceptorship. To build it, Luu also had to self-learn several programs; modelling the majority of assets in Blender, a 3D modelling software and learning basic C# and Unity's Game Engine to transition his model into a walkable space.

TFDL's Baker says he was immediately impressed by Luu’s self-taught acumen, especially for an undergraduate student. “It’s an almost a vertical learning curve. I think he's done amazing. He seems very quick to pick things up, especially given that he's not a computer scientist. I’m really excited to see where he takes it. He has a great sense of vision and the capabilities.”

Luu stands in the actual sim suite at UCalgary Nursing's Clinical Simulation Learning Centre that he replicated in his VR model.

Luu stands in the actual sim suite at UCalgary Nursing's Clinical Simulation Learning Centre that he replicated in his VR model.

Lynda Sea, Faculty of Nursing

Luu says he already knows a traditional nursing career isn’t in his future after graduation but that his nursing degree has been absolutely foundational to the work he wants to pursue.

“I was never sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. But I did know I wanted to leave a positive impact on the world. So, naturally, I fell into nursing, a career where my actions have meaning, and I can actively create positive change in the lives of those around me.”

He adds, “Going through the program and getting to experience what nursing's like, I realized that nursing is an extremely diverse field. And now, I’m looking for avenues that allow me to harness my creativity and desire to innovate.”

Luu currently works in marketing and communications with junior oil and gas company Razor Energy where he specializes in branding, content creation, media collaborations and web development. He has also already won two engineering design competitions with UCalgary Design League and Ryerson Design League. “In these competitions, I leveraged my ability to empathize with the end-user (a skill I attribute to marketing and nursing) and develop user-centric solutions to challenges like gamifying waste disposal to sustainable mining on Mars.”

Ferreira notes that computer science and nursing are actually a natural fit and that someone like Luu who can understand and excel at both disciplines can disrupt how health care and health-care education is delivered.

“He’s a unicorn in many different ways,” she says. “I said to him your value is that you speak both languages; the language of computer science and nursing. There are so many areas in nursing that require that kind of knowledge. Not a whole lot of nurses know how to do these kinds of things. But imagine a health-care system where this kind of technology exists in order to provide quality patient care.”

Ferreira says she sees Luu continuing to advocate for the discipline of nursing and to respond to the changes we are seeing in the real world. “He wants to innovate. He wants to do things differently. He wants to marry his interest in nursing and his passion to find solutions to make things better and he’s got drive.”