Children often experience respiratory illnesses requiring bedside nurses skilled in recognizing respiratory decompensation. Historically, recognizing respiratory distress has relied on teaching during direct patient care. Virtual reality simulation may accelerate such recognition among novice nurses.


To determine whether a virtual reality curriculum improved new nurses’ recognition of respiratory distress and impending respiratory failure in pediatric patients based on assessment of physical examination findings and appropriate escalation of care.


New nurses (n = 168) were randomly assigned to complete either an immersive virtual reality curriculum on recognition of respiratory distress (intervention) or the usual orientation curriculum (control). Group differences and changes from 3 months to 6 months after the intervention were examined.


Nurses in the intervention group were significantly more likely to correctly recognize impending respiratory failure at both 3 months (23.4% vs 3.0%, P < .001) and 6 months (31.9% vs 2.6%, P < .001), identify respiratory distress without impending respiratory failure at 3 months (57.8% vs 29.6%, P = .002) and 6 months (57.9% vs 17.8%, P < .001), and recognize patients’ altered mental status at 3 months (51.4% vs 18.2%, P < .001) and 6 months (46.8% vs 18.4%, P = .006).


Implementation of a virtual reality–based training curriculum was associated with improved recognition of pediatric respiratory distress, impending respiratory failure, and altered mental status at 3 and 6 months compared with standard training approaches. Virtual reality may offer a new approach to nurse orientation to enhance training in pediatrics-specific assessment skills.

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