Photo by Stella Jacob on Unsplash

A new £1 million teaching hub is set to launch in the North West to allow surgeons to learn and train remotely using immersive technology and will be led by a professor at Edge Hill University’s Medical School. 

The new Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Centre will be based in Wrightington and promises to deliver enhanced remote learning for trainee doctors and senior clinicians to practice medical procedures. 

The TEL is believed to be the first teaching hub of its kind in the North of England that will train medical professionals using immersive technology. 

Nirmal Kumar, an honorary professor at Edge Hill and an ear, nose and throat clinical and consultant surgeon at Wrightington, Wigan & Leigh Teaching NHS Foundation Trust, has played a central role in helping to develop the new centre. 

Prof Kumar said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for change around the world and in the higher education sector, it has revolutionised the way we teach and deliver training. While there are still many benefits to face-to-face teaching and hands-on sessions, these technologies are the next generation ahead of what we currently recognise as simulation training.” 

The TEL plans to provide a fully immersive teaching experience for users to train in anatomy, equipment training and surgical simulation using “next generation” technology, including a combination of virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR) and augmented reality (AR). 

Prof Kumar added: “The centre will be for a wide range of users, from medical students to doctors and practising senior clinicians. In medical training this is really exceptional because the key concept behind simulation training is patient safety, which is enhanced when surgeons can practice time and time again using this technology.” 

Prof Kumar explained why immersive technology is key to unlocking future of medical training. He said: “The benefit of this training is that is removes the need for learners to all crowd in one space, saving on travel and lending itself well to the future of virtual learning. 

“In addition, we know that medical students learn better if they can physically see and understand a demonstration in 3D, which this is key to help them really understand the human anatomy. As you become more experienced and senior in medical training this becomes subconscious, but until students reach this point, we hope this technology will help to bridge the gap and help to speed up the learning process.” 

While the TEL is based in Wrightington, the sessions will be beamed to several centres across the UK simultaneously. Learners will be provided with VR haptic hand controls and wearable headsets to transport them to a virtual training environment, removing the need to travel. 

The TEL team will work as partners with the Department of Computer Science at Edge Hill. 

Professor Nik Bessis, Head of Department, said: “This is a unique and exciting collaborative opportunity which will enable medical students, staff and clinicians to use our state-of-the-art facilities and ultimately receive next generation training.” 

Dr Peter Vangorp, Senior Lecturer at Edge Hill and technical lead of the specialist facilities, said: “These technologies allow students to gain real-world experience by practicing procedures in virtual or mixed reality environments that would otherwise be difficult to simulate.” 

The team developing the TEL hope that it will be ready to launch within the next six to 12 months. 

Jonathan Abbas, an ear, nose, and throat higher surgical trainee with an interest in technology enhanced learning, said: “Having experienced first-hand the challenges that postgraduate training is facing, I see this project as an exciting next step, utilising novel technologies to bolster training where opportunities have become limited.”  

Edge Hill’s Medical School is one of only three new freestanding medicine schools in the country and the only one in the North West of England. The school aims to develop a new generation of doctors who understand the needs of local communities and can respond to, and drive forward, new models of care. The University offers a range of Medicine programmes to choose from. 

Professor John Sandars, Director of Medical Education, Innovation and Scholarship, suggests that preparedness is a key concern at all stages of the medical education process, from initial early clinical contact across to later years with readiness for work as a junior doctor.  

Prof Sandars said: “The Medical School’s values are based on ensuring that all students can flourish and feel competent and confident in their clinical work. This was behind the ethos of the new Clinical Skills and Simulation Centre built on Edge Hill’s campus and will be integrated within the TEL too.”