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Dr. Jason Hughes uses virtual reality as tool to help educate students in Kahuku

An illustration of a girl using VR glasses, with various medical objects in the background.

Kahuku Medical Center’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jason Hughes said he has invested in a virtual reality system because it makes difficult concepts easier to understand for local students who come to learn at the hospital. He said they now use it in connection with Kahuku High School’s Healthcare Career Pathway program.

“We’ve talked about it for a couple of years, how to use tech for education. Once we turned it on, we realized it was more than what we had ever hoped and dreamed it would be,” Hughes said.

Recalling the first time he used the system, Hughes described, “I probably spent an hour in it, just laughing and crying. It’s mind-blowing.” Hughes said he is excited to use VR technology in the medical field because it presents complex ideas in a way that is easy to understand.

Erika Allred, a teacher at Kahuku High School who works with the Healthcare Careers Pathway program, said she would like to see VR used more in the classroom. VR is a fun way to test students’ knowledge, she explained. It makes people excited and want to learn more about their bodies. “Anything that helps people understand their body better is a positive thing,” remarked Allred.

Hughes said, “It’s fun to think that this small North Shore hospital has this technology ... We’re not huge, but we can try and make a difference in the community.”

Currently, Hughes shared, he has three applications he uses to help teach students. The first is a virtual reality video, which takes participants on a journey through the human body. He described it as being similar to Joanna Cole’s “The Magic School Bus.”

The second application takes users inside of the human body. It allows them to explore different organs and systems inside the body. Andrew Whetten, a student in the Healthcare Career Pathway program, described the experience as strange but exciting. “It’s weird because you know it’s not real, but it looks so real.”

The program not only allows users to look at the different organs and systems, but also to step inside them and see what they look like on the inside. Whetten said, “When you’re in it, the whole room looks like you’re in a heart.”

Hughes described the final application asa textbook. It places the user in a classroom and allows them to look in detail at the human body. It allows users to take apart the body and look at individual bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and gives the user information about them and their functions.

Healthcare Careers Pathway program

Allred said she loves the program because it shows students “they can be a lot more than they think they can be ... I always try and drill that into them.”

The Healthcare Careers Pathway program is a three-year program. Allred described how in the first year, students learn the basics about healthcare. In the second year, there is more hands-on learning, and finally, in the third year, students spend one hour a week at the hospital.

During their final year, students rotate throughout each department of the hospital. Each student is placed in a different department and shadows an employee during their time there.

Students do hands-on learning in each department and get to see if it could be a potential career for them, Allred explained.

After two weeks, students rotate and move to a new department. By the end of the year, every student has been to every department.

The Healthcare Careers Pathway program prepares students for college along with giving them an opportunity to see if healthcare is what they want to do, said Allred. She then added, “I wish they had a program like this when I was in high school.”

Kahuku Medical Center is fortunate to have this program, said Hughes. It allows them to inspire the students who will one day grow up to be healthcare professionals, he explained.

“I’ve always looked to be a source of good for the next generation of doctors ... If I can spark an interest [in students] to find something they are passionate about and make the world a better place, that’s my ultimate goal,” he said.