BCIT employs simulators to train radiation therapy technicians
Radiation therapy students at the B.C. Institute of Technology now have a new tool to ready them for working in the field, a 3-D simulator, the first of its kind in Western Canada.
The Virtual Environment for Radiotherapy Training (VERT) was developed in the U.K. and BCIT's Burnaby campus is the second place in Canada to get one after the Michener Institute in Toronto, said Lorraine Clark Roe, head of the radiation therapy program at BCIT.
VERT is a large 3-D projection system that simulates a linear accelerator, a radiation unit used in treating cancer, and even offers life-size visualizations of the human body.
The system allows students to learn how to operate the units in a safe, relaxed environment where they can learn from mistakes without any harm or interruption to a patient's treatment, Clark Roe said.
"You're so limited when you just talk. Even pictures and slides is limiting. This is very interactive," she said. "They can make motions with this technology and see what the result is."
Clark Roe believes the hands-on training, albeit in the virtual sense, will result in a more comfortable experience for cancer patients being treated by the students during their practicums.
"I think [patients will] realize that there's less hesitation [on the part of the students], there is more confidence," she said, as well as less chatter between the student and the actual therapist on what should and shouldn't be done.
"I think the whole experience will be more professional perhaps, or confidence-inducing even, for the patient."
BCIT student Sanj Jassi, in his last year of the three-year radiation therapy program, agreed.
"It will help you communicate with the patient because you're not so worried about how to run the machine because you'll have a good idea what it feels like with this new equipment," said Jassi, 31.
He noted that in his first semester of the program his class only had one day working with an actual linear accelerator at a cancer centre, which didn't give them much time to try it out. The simulator will allow for much more practise at school.
Based on his eight months of practicum experience, Jassi said the simulator, even the physical controller, is just like the real thing.
"It's 100 per cent right on. It sounds like the real machine, it moves like the real machine, every compoinent that you can control at the cancer centres themselves, you can control with the virtual reality machine."
Clark Roe said new radiation therapy students will now start to use the simulator in the first month of the program, when it will be used to introduce basic concepts and safety issues.
She added that the system can show how certain actions with the linear accelerator affects virtual "patients," things they wouldn't be able to see with a real patient.
The system, including the necessary renovations to accommodate it, cost about $500,000. The B.C. Cancer Agency, which hires about three-quarters of graduates from BCIT's radiation therapy program, funded the computer equipment and software, said Clark Roe. The remainder was funded through donations by the London Drugs Foundation and the Envision Financial Community Endowment administrated by the First West Foundation.