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FocuSStem NextGen

Medical Simulation in Virtual Reality


Karmanos Cancer Institute, FocuSStem NextGen


Emerging Tech, Healthcare, AR/VR, and UX/UI

The Challenge

The FocuSStem NextGen initiative introduces underrepresented students in Southeastern Michigan to STEM careers. A summer intensive is offered, allowing students to meet with leading cancer physicians, researchers and clinical staff. It also allows students to connect with their peers and work together in real-world health scenarios. While the 2020 intensive was originally planned to take place in person, COVID-19 forced the program's leaders to explore other options. They needed another way to immerse students in realistic medical scenarios—allowing them to learn and collaborate with one another remotely.

Our Approach

Using Virtual Reality For Remote Learning

CrossComm worked with leaders from the Karmanos Cancer Institute and FocuSStem NextGen to plan a virtual reality component for the program. It would allow students to meet and collaborate with other students and faculty mentors in the same virtual environment, despite being geographically distant from one another.

Building Out Functional Requirements

CrossComm set out to build a multi-user VR application in the Unity game engine. The application needed to accommodate a cohort of over 15 students and mentors at a time, while allowing mentors to have administrative control over various elements in the environment. Our AR/VR developers needed to devise logistical plans for how the space functioned, such as how and where participants showed up upon entering the experience, and how they would move around once there.

“The CrossComm team was phenomenal- receptive, flexible, and humble. The back and forth ideation and concepting in VR was seamless, and I was 100% pleased with the end-result. I’m absolutely looking forward to doing more interesting stuff with you guys!”

Dr. Elisabeth Heath, Faculty Mentor @ FocuSStem NextGen/ Karmanos Cancer Institute

Collaborating Remotely on Design

CrossComm sent Oculus Quest VR headsets to leaders from the Karmanos Cancer Institute and the FocuSStem NextGen program in order to meet with them in Virtual Reality—similar to how a client might meet an architect in a building as it is being constructed. This allowed the Karmanos and FocuSStem leaders to tour the virtual space, discuss progress, and provide immediate and relevant design feedback based off of real experience rather than 2D sketches. Having the immediate input from medical professionals on the Karmanos team helped CrossComm to effectively design realistic simulations of real-world medical environments, including a research lab, an ICU, and an operating room.

Fostering a Productive Relationship

CrossComm was fully invested in the success of the FocuSStem NextGen Summer Intensive. In early conversations, we aimed to guide the Karmanos and NextGen teams so that they fully understood the possibilities of VR. We sought to spark their own creativity and channel their energy and ideas—even giving them access to an in-house tool we created for building 3D wireframes in virtual space. When done with development, we preloaded each Oculus Quest headset with the final app and shipped them to Karmanos so that they were ready for students on day one of the program.

Oculus Headsets Stacked

Preloaded Oculus Quests, ready to send to Karmanos


Engaging Young Minds in STEM

While many summer programs were forced to cancel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the FocuSStem NextGen Summer Intensive at Karmanos Cancer Institute was able to successfully pivot. High school students virtually attended interactive lab simulations through their donated Oculus Quest headsets. Additionally, VR allowed them to take part in activities that would have been unrealistic (or even dangerous) in person, such as cleaning chemical spills in the lab or making surgical cuts on patients in the OR. Students reported overwhelmingly positive experiences about the VR modules. 85% of participants said the lab sessions were as good or better than their lab experiences at school (the other 15% said this was their first lab experience.) The 2020 intensive won a Silver Telly Award in the "Immersive & Mixed Reality General: Education & Training" category.

“My favorite part of the program was the immersive VR experience that allowed us to get a glimpse of a typical day in the ICU, OR and clinical research lab.”

15-year-old student in the program, Participant of FocuSStem NextGen Summer Intensive