A motorway pileup, major flooding incident, critical accident in the home, the scenarios can be as extreme as the creators of a futuristic simulated room for health care students can fabricate. 

Thanks to a uniquely clever combination of artistic, technical and health care talents, a pioneering 5m x 5m immersive box has emerged at University of Cumbria, to take a whole new generation of practioners into a world where storytelling reflects the realities. 

For Finn Drude, who arrived from his native Germany, initially to study film and TV production and has worked on Star Wars and Swallows and Amazons epics, the role as senior technician with the university’s health simulation team is the perfect fusion of fact and fiction. 

Non-medical himself, he says his passion to tell stories and build narratives, and working with art students in the design process, has helped produce a key resource for health training. 

He says: “We’re able to recreate places and situations that students are very unlikely to access in placements, providing vital experience before going into practice. We show what it’s like to work under pressure in environments that can be anything from difficult to dangerous.” 

Designed by gener8 and funded by Health Education England, it has taken two years to bring the immersive room to fruition. It offers digital and actual props, even actors, to show what real-life help and interventions look like.  

In Cumbria:

“The experiences are very realistic, especially the blend of physical and computer-generated settings,” says Finn. “Sound plays a huge part in making this feel as close to reality as possible. 

“It’s this combination of projections and soundscapes that really work. Imagine an incident at a rugby match, with a roaring crowd, and not being able to hear a patient over the noise. We can create that, demonstrating what it’s like to work under pressure. 

“Or, perhaps there are difficult family circumstances around a home assessment, we can do that too, right down opening cupboards and checking the fridge. People come in sceptical, but are quickly won over. 

“Some situations might be distressing, overwhelming, but we stop at any time, giving students time to adjust to what they’re seeing. We can also create hybrids where we can pause for academics to come in with interactive teaching, using virtual 3D models.” 

The only limit to these scenarios is our imagination, and time, says Finn, adding it was hoped every health student would get the opportunity to go immersive. 

Sarah Allison, lead of £5.7m business growth booster, Cumbria Innovations Platform (CUSP II), providing expertise to help SMEs develop leading-edge ideas, paid tribute to Finn and the sim team. 

She said: “This is a wonderful example of digital innovation which is of great benefit to those working in the health and social care sector and providing excellent opportunities for employee development. 

“Alongside vital experiences gained by our future practitioners, there is the ingenuity and vision of people from different spheres coming together to share strengths and expertise. It’s an exciting time.” 

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Backed by the university and the European Regional Development Fund, CUSP II brings leading-edge ideas to fruition, helping drive the digital transformation agenda. 

Having overseen technical and creative elements of the sim room, Finn Drude is helping academics with training sessions and to devise tailor-made scenarios to fit courses and teaching.    

“It’s liberating having creative freedom to prepare students for anything. Through storytelling and medical knowledge, we’ve been able to look beyond health theory to bring realism and a human face for patients.” 

Working on a third degree, alongside his sim lab work, Finn says: “Cumbria and the university have allowed me to pursue my passion and build a career in an industry I love.”