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3-D Isn't Just for the Movies

Conquest - Fall 2011

Virtual Environment Great Teaching Tool for Radiation Therapy Students

By Mary Jane Schier

The latest teaching tool at 
MD Anderson's School of Health Professions has generated considerable excitement for instructors and students.

The new Virtual Environmental Radiotherapy Training (VERT) system that creates a three-dimensional setting for radiation therapy students to learn how to treat patients is the first in the country.

“VERT provides a virtual example of a radiation treatment room so we can give students a direct, hands-on experience. It allows them to see inside a patient’s body and practice their clinical skills in a safe environment before they go into the clinic,” says Shaun Caldwell, assistant professor, who directs the school’s radiation therapy program.

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“I’m amazed at how VERT is revolutionizing the way we teach radiation therapy,” Caldwell adds. For more than a year, he coordinated installation of the system, during which a large theater-style classroom was remodeled.

The VERT system was purchased with a gift from the Kinder Foundation of Houston that also supports endowed scholarships at the School of Health Professions. The classroom containing VERT was renamed the Kinder Foundation Classroom.

Raising the education bar

VERT uses rear-projection technology to show interactive 3-D images on a screen 14 feet tall and nine feet wide. Students wear special 3-D goggles while moving around the life-sized virtual patient to practice various radiation procedures.

Anhdiep Tran, a student in the Radiation
Therapy Program, wears 3-D goggles as 
she practices clinical skills in the new
Virtual Environmental Radiotherapy
Training system classroom.
Photo: F. Carter Smith

During a recent demonstration, students Anhdiep Tran and Eva Mohammed asked questions while following Caldwell’s instructions about the virtual patient who would be treated for a brain tumor.

“Wow, look at that,” was a frequent comment. Both students stress that after their VERT experiences, they felt more comfortable with patients in the clinic.

As he projected anatomical structures adjoining the virtual patient’s treatment target, Caldwell explained the complexities of aiming precise radiation through tissues, muscles and bones to reach the tumor.

He says VERT helps reduce the time for teaching students about abstract concepts so they will better understand what they’ll deal with in clinical situations.

The computerized tomography data that is essential for radiation therapy planning and delivery can be incorporated into 3-D teaching for other allied health students.

“VERT is an incredible example of how MD Anderson keeps raising the bar in technology and educational opportunities,” Caldwell says.

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