Gaining empathy through virtual reality: UNE College of Osteopathic Medicine featured on front page of ‘Portland Press Herald’

April 10, 2017

The grant is a collaborative effort between UNE COM and UNE Library Services
The grant is a collaborative effort between UNE COM and UNE Library Services

Most students at University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine (UNE COM) will go on to treat older adults at some point during their careers. Until now, those future physicians did not know exactly what it felt like to be in their shoes.

In November 2016, UNE Library Services and the UNE COM Division of Geriatric Medicine received a National Network of Libraries of Medicine New England Region (NN/LM NER) Technology Grant to implement the Embodied Labs "We Are Alfred" virtual reality (VR) experience project. Beth Dyer, M.L.I.S., A.H.I.P., and Barbara Swartzlander, M.S.Ed. M.L.S., from UNE Library Services brought the grant opportunity to the attention of Marilyn R. Gugliucci, Ph.D., professor and director of Geriatrics Education.

Using specialized laptops, motion sensors, goggles and software in the Biddeford campus library, all first year UNE COM students were required to participate in a virtual reality experience in which they became an older adult named Alfred who suffers from macular degeneration and hearing loss. The experience begins at a birthday party where Alfred struggles to see and hear his family, and continues to a doctor’s appointment where the physicians works to diagnose Alfred’s health problems. The students completed pre and post-assessment tests to demonstrate what they learned and how their perspective on aging had changed through the experience.  

The Portland Press Herald published an article about the program on April 10, 2017. The article explains that UNE is one of only four schools in the world currently using the program. “The Alfred Lab is the latest addition to UNE’s geriatrics education program, which provides more than 30 hours of aging-related training and offers firsthand clinical experience as nursing home patients and hospice caregivers,” the article states. “The college is addressing a growing shortage of geriatricians, primary care doctors and other health care providers who serve the nation’s rapidly increasing senior population.”

On March 27, 2017, the project was featured on a Webinar titled, “Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, & Health.” Gugliucci was one of four presenters. Her presentation, “We Are Alfred: Empathy Learned Through a Medical Education Virtual Reality Project,” was co-authored by Swartzlander and Dyer.

Read the article in the Portland Press Herald.

Read an article and Watch a video about UNE's program from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine. 

 Read the webinar presentation.

To learn more about the University of New England’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, visit

 To apply, visit

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