iEXCEL Revolutionizes Healthcare Education through Immersive Technology


Everybody’s gotta start somewhere. That includes the doctor hitting your knee with a mallet.

And the nurse splinting your child’s broken arm.  

And the EMT saving your life.

University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Interprofessional Experiential Center for Enduring Learning (iEXCEL) employs real-life visualization and simulation technology to educate students and professionals in the healthcare industry.

For instance, users can don a holographic lens to peer deep inside a brain, manipulating this mixed-reality view with a handwave. They can wear a 3D head-mounted display and fly through the bloodstream, whizzing past chromosomes, proteins, mitochondria. They can provide medical care to a family of life-size, computer-driven manikins (not to be confused with mannequins) and get vital feedback along the way. They can even become a photon of light entering the eye.

This is all thanks to a collaboration between medical subject matter experts and iEXCEL’s team of 3D graphics specialists, animators, programmers, and designers, who have experience in everything from educational game design to creating graphics for big-budget Hollywood movies. This collaboration results in the immersive technology offered by iEXCEL.

Once the domain of gamers and techno-dreamers, immersive technology increasingly supplements traditional textbook and lecture-style learning in many disciplines, especially high-risk industries such as aviation and healthcare. Nowhere is this more apparent than at iEXCEL.

iEXCEL composes a practical symphony of technology. An Interactive Digital iWall consisting of 12 giant touchscreens enables users to interact with content and collaborate with other students no matter where they are. A multi-channel high-resolution 3D CADWall allows users to manipulate 3D images of the human body. A wearable HoloLens offers a mix of augmented and virtual reality views of digital content superimposed on the physical world. Such experiences give students and professionals a more immersive view of their subject matter than ever before.

Game Design for Serious Work

“As you know, most of this technology comes out of this gaming, modeling, and simulation field that is used for entertainment,” said Pamela J. Boyers, PhD, Associate Vice Chancellor of Clinical Simulation for iEXCEL. “What we’re doing is taking that and applying it to the serious work of patient care.”

One of the main goals of iEXCEL is to improve medical outcomes by giving students the chance to repeatedly rehearse and troubleshoot real-life scenarios before ever seeing a patient.

“You can take out a gallbladder and get feedback on how you’re doing,” Dr. Boyers said.

Replicating the Healthcare System

Currently located in the Michael F. Sorrell Center for Health Science Education, iEXCEL will move to the newly constructed Davis Global Center in the fall.

The Davis Global Center replicates the entire healthcare system. It includes a home unit, a community care unit, a simulated ambulance bay, and other nodes. This helps professionals practice transitioning patients between different stages of the healthcare system.

“It’s a digital building that helps healthcare professionals at all levels of training, not just students, improve the way they take care of patients, either as individuals or as teams, by using simulation technology, just like aviation and other high-risk industries,” Dr. Boyers said.

iEXCEL’s work is already catching the attention of medical educators. When Silicon Prairie News visited the center, Dr. Marjorie Zelke, of the University of Texas at Dallas, was also receiving a tour. Zelke is an expert on game-based simulation. She’d heard good things about iEXCEL’s approach and wanted to check it out for herself.

“We keep an eye on what’s happening globally and nationally, and we’re right on the cutting edge,” Dr. Boyers said. “It’s a journey. An important journey.”


(Photos courtesy of the iEXCEL program at UNMC)

Tom McCauley is a digital content producer at AIM Institute and a terrible standup comedian.


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