Creating Patient Context: Empathy and Attitudes Toward Diabetes Following Virtual Immersion

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Background: Pandemic circumstances created challenges for doctor of physical therapy (DPT) students to understand social determinants of health (SDH) in clinical rotations. Instead of canceling clinical rotations, a virtual reality cinema (cine-VR) education series was implemented. The purpose of this project is to describe the effect of this simulated immersion on student empathy and attitudes toward diabetes. Method: The DPT students (n=59) participated in 12 cine-VR education modules, completing surveys at three time points as part of coursework. The students completed baseline measures of the Diabetes Attitude Scale–Version 3 (DAS-3) and Jefferson Empathy Scale (JES), and then were immersed in 12 cine-VR modules. One week after module completion, students participated in a class discussion about the modules. The students repeated the JES and DAS-3 scales at postclass and six weeks later. Three subscales from the Presence Questionnaire (PQ) were used to measure the virtual experience. Results: Student scores on three DAS-3 subscales significantly improved on posttest: Attitude toward patient autonomy, Mean: 0.75, SD: 0.45; t(58) = 12.742, P <.001; Psychosocial impact of diabetes, Mean: −0.21, SD: 0.41; t(58) = −3.854, P <.001; and Seriousness of type 2 diabetes, Mean: −039, SD: 0.44; t(58) = −6.780, P <.001, with lower scores six weeks later. Student scores increased on the JES and remained high (P <.001). High subscale scores on the PQ demonstrated immersion and involvement in the virtual experience. Discussion: These modules can allow for a shared student experience that improves diabetes attitudes, increases empathy, and fosters meaningful classroom discussion. The cine-VR experience is flexible, and modules allow students to engage in aspects of a patient’s life that were not available otherwise.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1172-1180
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Diabetes Science and Technology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2023


  • cinematic virtual reality
  • diabetes attitudes
  • empathy
  • social determinants of health education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomedical Engineering


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