DATE:  June 6 , 2005

Dr. Claudia Johnston, Associate Vice President for Special Projects, (361) 825-2712; Jorge A. Ramirez, Assistant Vice President, Marketing and Communications, (361) 825-2427

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Awarded $4.3 Million Grant to Develop Virtual Learning Space for Current and Future Healthcare Professionals

Next-Generation Learning Platform to Offer Students, Military Personnel and First Responders Critical Clinical Learning Experiences in a Game-Based Environment

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi has been awarded a $4.3 million federal grant from the Office of Naval Research, Department of the Navy, to create a Virtual Learning Space. Congressional support was provided by Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-TX, 27th) whose office helped initiate funding for this groundbreaking effort. When it is ready for academic use, this revolutionary software system, working title Pulse!!, will allow students, both civilian and military, as well as practicing healthcare professionals to immerse themselves in a wide variety of clinical healthcare environments and scenarios where learners can perform and interact virtually to heal patients and deal with a range of healthcare occupational issues.  Scenarios will be developed and inspired by combining the accuracy of medical education and the motivational expertise of the entertainment and video game industry.

“This funding was a high priority for me in the Defense bill,” said Ortiz. “This virtual lab will help individuals develop skills in healthcare settings, without the actual live patient.  This learning is similar to how we train today’s astronauts who test in a module that represents all the components of what might happen in space so they will be prepared for any situation.  The same concept holds true for the Virtual Learning Space. Training healthcare professionals virtually can better prepare them for the inner space of human medicine. Science and medicine are making huge leaps every day; this project will help us keep pace with new practices and technologies while simultaneously offering its own leap forward.”

“We are exceedingly pleased with the results of Congressman Ortiz’s hard work on the University’s behalf in securing this grant,” said A&M-Corpus Christi President Flavius C. Killebrew. “His vision and perseverance will help us achieve a most advanced and creative healthcare education delivery system. Because of this strong partnership with the Department of the Navy, we have no doubt that numbers of students and healthcare practitioners, as well as patients, will greatly benefit from this project.” 

“We are going to build a learning environment that fosters and optimizes the emergence of skilled, knowledgeable healthcare professionals. Our platform will strengthen the critical thinking and skills today’s health professions require.” said Dr. Claudia Johnston, Associate Vice President for Special Projects at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

Today training and education for medical and health care professionals is provided through standard in-classroom learning supplemented by on-site clinical experiences, both incorporating some computer-assisted instruction. 

“Pulse!! is part of a whole vision for virtual learning for nursing and other health professions both military and civilian,” explained Dr. Johnston. “It’s not designed to fully replace the pre-licensure clinical experience but to help students practice skills and to apply conceptual knowledge. It provides one solution for the nursing shortage that integrates new ideas and technologies rather than a ‘do more with less’ attitude.”


The only norm in healthcare is change.  Individual sectors including military healthcare are trying to adapt quickly to change. The nursing profession is coping with a historical shortage of personnel made worse by an acute dearth of faculty and a dramatic shortening of patient length of stay, which give nursing students fewer opportunities for clinical experiences. Recent bio-terror threats coupled with wounds created by high-tech warfare and improvised explosive devices require physicians, nurses and other first responders to constantly update their knowledge and skill sets.  Pulse!! will provide authoring tools that allow development of effective rapid response learning experiences concerning the latest threats to patients on the battlefield or at home. 

The concept evolved from the finding by military-affiliated universities that cadets who frequently played video games performed better in duties they were simulating with their gaming than those who didn’t. Instead of flight, driving, and strategic warfare simulators students utilizing the virtual learning platform, Pulse!!, will immerse themselves in scenarios that create a high-fidelity clinical healthcare learning infrastructure for skills acquisition and testing. Simulated experiences offer comparative advantages over real-world training including:

  • more flexibility & greater efficiency,
  • improved ability to measure for assessment,
  • providing a safe space for learner failure
  • reduction of ongoing and long-term cost
  • rapid distribution and updates in response to sudden changes.

Pulse!! will feature a sophisticated simulation-model that will allow virtual patients to react as real-life patients would. Pulse!! is not an antiseptic learning system. Plans call for lifelike stressors such as time limits and physical and sensory distraction. The technologies will include support for individual, simultaneous, and asynchronous teams participating in coordinated exercises.

When completed the technology developed will allow students to see both the immediate and longer-term, realistic consequences of their actions or inaction as healthcare and medical professionals.