SINGAPORE - It is a sight that will soon be common at the medical teaching halls at the National University of Singapore: A medical student is wearing a headset with flashing, prismatic lights as he practises a tube insertion for an intravenous drip on a latex dummy.
At times, Mr Rajragavan Sarvananthan, 24, pauses and raises his arm as if to make a point - that is when he is interacting with holograms projected from his headset that are giving him step-by-step instructions on how to conduct the procedure.
The headset - Microsoft's HoloLens 2 - the medical student says, would allow medical students to integrate lectures into practice sessions, when previously they would have to wait for medical lectures to refresh their understanding.
The final-year medical student, who was part of a pilot for two months, said: "Being able to replay key steps and get additional practice in each procedure allows me to feel more confident in providing a safe experience for my patients."
More students like Mr Rajragavan from NUS's Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine will benefit from such additional practice when the pilot is expanded later this year.
From April, 300 second- and third-year nursing and medical students will undergo training with the help of 3D holographic technology, made in collaboration with Microsoft, before they are sent on clinical attachments.
During the programme, nursing and medical students will get to practise insertions of urinary catheters and tubes for intravenous drips with the guidance of holograms on the headset. These are two common procedures often administered to hospitalised patients.
This is the first time holographic technology - described as mixed reality as opposed to virtual reality or augmented reality - is officially being integrated into the curriculum for training medical and nursing students in Singapore.
Associate Professor Alfred Kow, assistant dean of Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, said the new technology is an advancement over the current virtual reality training that medical students undergo.
He said: "Unlike virtual reality lessons, where students will have to use unwieldy controllers and heavy headsets that can only be worn for about 30 minutes without nausea, the HoloLens2 - because of its design - can be worn for five to six hours and allows students to practise with the actual tools they will use in work."
"This will allow students to develop the right 'hand feel' which is crucial to the profession," he added, referring to how doctors and nurses need to have real experience with medical tools like scalpels and needles in order to be considered proficient.
For a start, the mixed reality education programme has lessons for insertions of a urinary catheter and a tube for an IV drip - at three levels of difficulty.
In two years' time, another 10 general procedures medical students need to know in order to graduate from their first year will be added.
The school aims to increase the number of headsets available to students from about 10 to about 60 by the end of this year as the mixed reality programme is also expected to eventually provide instruction for other skills, like clinical soft skills and surgical skills.
Prof Kow envisions that in the next three to five years, medical students may be able to learn advanced surgical skills at home with the Hololens2. The high-tech gear may also be used to assess their proficiency in clinical skills while they are on attachment.
Mr Richard Koh, national technology officer of Microsoft Singapore, said: "The possibilities are really endless. All it takes is the imagination of our industry partners to figure out new ways the technology can be used."