Exploring VR simulation Without Hurting the Budget

Already using traditional simulation but curious about VR?

If you’re reading this article it’s likely that in one way or another you’re a believer in the potential of using simulations to enhance medical education and that you’re at least curious about the potential of VR as a simulation technology. However, you like many administrations may have realized there is a tension between the potential upside of simulation-based learning and the costs of operating these simulation labs. If your institution has already invested in traditional sim labs, adding VR simulation and its associated costs, could seem like a tall order.

If this is a challenge you’re aware of, then no matter how interested you may be in the upside of adding VR you see the potential battle of convincing others to spend even more on simulations. your thinking might go something like this “We’ve already invested a ton in traditional sims with average results, can I convince people we should actually be spending more on simulations by adding VR?” If this at all relates to you, keep reading, and hopefully we can arm you with a particular strategy to introduce VR on a budget.

What are the costs of traditional simulation and the challenges?

A challenge with traditional simulation is that they have ongoing costs that make it difficult to provide students with enough experience to have a large effect on their learning. In a study by Agha, Alhamrani, and Khan (2015) it was found that the most common complaint by students who used simulation-based learning was that not enough time was allocated for simulation and that the labs were not adequately supplied.

While it’s encouraging that students wanted more simulations, the challenge with correcting this is that with traditional simulations the more you have the more the costs. This conflict between simulation needs and the cost of more simulations is made strikingly clear when one considers that a medical simulation costs roughly $460 per hour to run (McIntosh et al. 2006).

Financial costs are not the only barrier to implementing more traditional simulation. Consider the burden of coordinating just one more simulation for every medical student in a class of 150 students. With these financial and administrative challenges in mind, increasing the number of traditional simulations might be a hard sell even though you know the students need more simulations.

The ‘drop-in’ approach to integrating VR within your institution

Using a ‘drop-in’ approach could be a method of adding VR-based simulation without breaking the bank. The ‘drop-in’ method involves making headsets available in the simulation labs for students to use with either minimal or zero supervision. The VR headset is placed on a cart that includes a one-page sheet with basic instructions for new users. Additionally, once students are within the program in the headset, most well-made VR simulations have in-application instructions to further guide new users. With this setup, students have near-unlimited access to on-demand clinical simulations with no ongoing costs for students running through a simulation.

While there are up-front costs to adding VR hardware and software, these are minimal compared to most simulation labs’ ongoing costs. However, unlike traditional simulation, this method of providing VR-based simulation has no added costs when students go to practice clinical skills and simulations. This allows you and the faculty to not worry as much about costs while you continue your mission of providing effective simulation-based training.

By B. McKay Byam M.D.

October 2022


Agha, S., Alhamrani, A.Y. and Khan, M.A. (2015) “Satisfaction of medical students with simulation based learning,” Saudi Medical Journal, 36(6), pp. 731–736. Available at: https://doi.org/10.15537/smj.2015.6.11501. 

McIntosh, C. et al. (2006) “Simulation: What does it really cost?,” Simulation in Healthcare: The Journal of the Society for Simulation in Healthcare, 1(2), p. 109. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1097/01266021-200600120-00041.

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