Jaime Hannans, Ph.D.

Faculty | Channel Islands

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“My favorite part about teaching is when students have the ‘aha’ moment and really start to put the pieces together.”

CSU Channel Islands professor Dr. Jaime Hannans believes nobody cares for patients like nurses do. So she made it her life’s work to teach student nurses how to be as empathetic as possible using emerging technologies like virtual reality.

A large black blob appears in the center of your field of vision, making it hard to eat or even see the birthday cake your daughter has placed in front of you. The voices of your loved ones are muffled and hard to make out. The isolation you feel is palpable.

That’s what it’s like to be “Alfred,” a 74-year-old man with macular degeneration and hearing loss at the center of a new virtual reality (VR) lab led by Jaime Hannans, Ph.D., associate professor of nursing at California State University Channel Islands.

“When I first experienced virtual reality myself, I thought, This is it. This is how students can learn what it’s like from the patient’s perspective,” says Hannans, whose advancements in nursing  and commitment to student success were recently recognized by the CSU Office of the Chancellor with a Faculty Innovation and Leaders​hip Award.

“With VR, nursing students can embody the patient virtually and feel their frustration.”

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​Finding Her Calling

Dr. Hannans came to CSU Channel Islands in 2009, but the California State University has nearly always been part of her life.

Her aunt worked at Humboldt State University for nearly three decades as a professor and then chair of nursing, and Hannans visited the CSU’s northernmost campus often as a little girl. “I loved going to the bookstore on campus,” she recalls. “From the beginning, the CSU was ingrained in my life.”

As an undergraduate, she attended Chico State with dreams of working in sports medicine. But after a friend broke his neck in a snowboarding accident and Hannans’s sister broke her back just four months later while serving in the Air Force, her career path took a turn.

“All of their care was dependent on the nurses they had,” she says. “It empowered me to feel like nursing was the right way to go,” Hannans says.

“[Nurses] are the ones who are there throughout the day to help patients when they have an emotional moment or to administer basic care needs. The nurse is the constant and such a key role in providing effective and safe care.”

Redi​scovering Empathy

While earning her doctorate and working mostly in critical care for several years, Hannans couldn't help but notice the stress and burnout nurses can experience in the notoriously demanding profession.

“They weren’t quite as empathetic toward patients, and I wanted to change that,” she explains. “I knew I would have a bigger impact on new nurses by teaching them.”

So she once again made the CSU her home, and in 2017, Talya Drescher, Ph.D., assistant professor of special education at CSUCI, introduced Hannans to VR as a teaching tool.

​It was then that she knew she’d found her passion project.

In spring 2018, Hannans launched the VR labs in the nursing program ​in conjunction with Embodied Labs, an immersive learning system that simulates physical problems and/or chronic disease or illness faced by aging adults.

The innovative professor also collaborates with CSU Northridge’s SimPact on a mixed-reality experience that trains nursing students on how to navigate difficult end-of-life conversations with patients and their families. Students interact with an on-screen avatar while live responses are delivered by an actor behind the scenes.

“Many times, nurses have to learn how to manage difficult situations or conversations on the spot,” she notes. “Technologies like virtual reality better prepare our nursing students to remain patient-centered.”

Whether as a student or an educator, there’s been one constant for Hannans: the CSU. “I don’t think I could’ve chosen a better pathway to be able to have both my education through the CSU system and now to be able to give back to those who are getting their nursing educations.”​

“Technologies like virtual reality better prepare our nursing students so they can stay patient-centered.” —Dr. Jaime Hannans


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