VHA Innovation Ecosystem and Office of Nursing Services are proud to celebrate the Year of the Nurse by highlighting a unique nurse-led innovation, or promising practice, each month for the remainder of 2020. With over 80,000 nurses throughout the VA health system, we are the largest employer of nurses in the nation. This month, we introduce employee innovator, Caitlin Rawlins, from the Charles George VA Medical Center (VAMC), in Asheville, NC.
When VA nurse Caitlin Rawlins, who studied art in college before getting her first nursing degree in 2010, saw her Veteran inpatients suffering from boredom, stress, and anxiety during their stays at VA hospitals, her background as both an artist and a medical professional led her to think differently about a possible solution: virtual reality (VR).
In VR therapy, patients use VR technology to navigate through virtual worlds and settings that are specially designed to confront a specific ailment, even if that challenge is simply the boredom of being in a hospital bed for a lengthy stay.
“From the first time I used VR with a patient post-operatively, I knew the potential benefits of this technology were limitless,” said Rawlins. “It was a post-total knee arthroplasty patient with significant pain management issues who, after 20 minutes of virtual reality, stated he no longer felt his leg/knee pain. He was just the first on a long list of Veterans who have had a similar reaction related to a variety of issues like pain, stress, anxiety, boredom and behavioral issues.”
While Rawlins’ work aims to stave off boredom for her Veterans, it has expanded to multiple types of VR therapy. In 2020, Rawlin’s program was selected as part of the VHA Innovators Network 2020 Spark-Seed-Spread Innovation Investment Program. As a Spread investee, she had the resources to spread her VR program to four more sites. She is also now acting as a consultant to more than 10 other VA Medical Centers who have started, or are starting, VR programs.
“I feel extremely lucky to work for an organization that prizes innovation and practice changes based on both evidence and the opinion of nurses,” says Rawlins. “In our facility and within the VHA, I get unwavering support as I expand this project and others I know that may not have been the case in many, or even most, hospitals around the country.”