New life in Second Life — virtual maternity unit attracts national acclaim

19 Jan 2012 16:48:02.550


A virtual reality maternity unit, which will allow student midwives to practice their communication  and clinical skills, has garnered national award recognition for a Nottingham midwife teacher.

The maternity unit built on The University of Nottingham’s ‘island’ in Second Life —an online 3D virtual world — has been developed by Jenny Bailey, a midwife teacher in the University’s Academic Division of Midwifery, as a teaching tool for her students.

Her innovative work on the project, and her commitment to innovation in midwifery education, has led to her being shortlisted for two awards at this year’s Royal College of Midwives (RCM) Annual Midwifery Awards.

Click here for full story

Jenny said: “I am delighted to have been shortlisted for two 2012 RCM national awards, one of which is my virtual maternity unit. I hope that the virtual maternity unit can be used by students to enhance their communication skills, and to discuss and simulate management of care for women in labour.”

The work has been done in collaboration with colleagues Colleen McCants and Fay Cross in the University’s Information Services department who helped bring Jenny’s idea to virtual life and with support from Dr Bob Hallawell in the Division of Nursing.

The University of Nottingham Maternity Unit in Second Life is designed to represent a range of similarities found within birthing units, with a birthing room that can be set up according to the type of birth that a mother has requested — including birthing  pool, gym ball and inhalation analgesia (gas and air).

The computer simulation allows students to use avatars to role play through a whole range of scenarios, many of which they may not otherwise encounter during real-life clinical practice.

With the midwife teacher taking on the part of the expectant mother, students can be put through their paces to assess how they react to every aspect of the experience, such as the clinical decisions they make or how well they communicate.

Jenny added: “Part of a midwife’s role is to be able to provide unbiased information to women so they can make informed choices for their journey through pregnancy and childbirth, and that means sometimes students need to alter or adapt their language depending on the situation to get the information across.

“Childbirth is a life-changing experience and some women can feel very vulnerable when they are in hospital so much so that it can affect their labour. Students need to learn very quickly how to put women at ease and gain their trust.

“Using avatars removes some of the embarrassment which can be experienced in real role play and is intended to enhance clinical practice rather than replace it.”

The Second Life simulation is so realistic that students can virtually practice clinical skills such as administering pain relief, checking the mother’s contractions and taking her pulse and blood pressure, with the results of tests being displayed in the midwife’s control panel on screen. They can also offer other support and reassurance, even sitting beside the mother on the floor and rubbing her back.

The tutor, as the expectant mother, plays a leading role in the labour including deciding the results of various tests and when the baby or placenta is delivered.

After the virtual birth, the student midwives learn the procedures used during the first minutes and hour of a baby’s life to carry out the Apgar score to assess baby’s wellbeing or to record the weight or to establish feeding.

The simulation has led to Jenny being shortlisted in the Philips Avent Award for Innovation in Midwifery category of the Royal College of Midwives awards, which recognise and celebrate the successes and innovation of all its members.

Her work on blended learning — using a varied approach to learning that includes podcasts, clinical practice and online e-learning materials — has also seen her shortlisted in the category Johnson’s Baby Award for Excellence in Midwifery Education.

Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “This demonstrates that there is wonderful and ground-breaking work being done by midwives and I congratulate Jenny on being shortlisted for this award.

“Midwifery practice is always moving forward and innovating. This shows that if we give midwives the resources and the freedom to do this, the result is better services for women, babies and their families.”

The awards lunch will be held on January 25 at the Grand Connaught Rooms in Covent Garden. Journalist and broadcaster Natasha Kaplinsky is presenting the awards. 

Video about the virtual Maternity Unit can be viewed at

— Ends —

For up to the minute media alerts, follow us on Twitter at

Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham, described by The Sunday Times University Guide 2011 as ‘the embodiment of the modern international university’, has award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings. It was named ‘the world’s greenest university’ in the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking 2011, a league table of the most environmentally-friendly higher education institutions.

The University is committed to providing a truly international education for its 40,000 students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around its campuses in the UK and Asia. Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest ever fund-raising campaign, will deliver the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. For more details, visit:


More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranked the University 7th in the UK by research power.

The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health. The University won a Queen’s Award for Higher and Further Education in 2011, for its research on global food security.

More news from the University at:

Story credits

 More information is available from Jenny Bailey on +44 (0)115 823 0981,;

Emma Thorne Emma Thorne - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793 Location: University Park

Additional resources

No additional resources for this article

Related articles

Victory for virtual maternity unit in national midwifery awards

Published Date
Thursday 26th January 2012

Simple online tool to aid GPs in early ovarian cancer diagnosis

Published Date
Wednesday 4th January 2012

MBE for Nottingham stroke expert

Published Date
Wednesday 4th January 2012

Choral tribute to inspirational medical scientist

Published Date
Thursday 1st December 2011

Parents views sought on childhood obesity risk

Published Date
Monday 5th December 2011

Financial help for social work training at Nottingham

Published Date
Thursday 15th December 2011

Childhood obesity - what are the health risks?

Published Date
Wednesday 16th November 2011

Student satisfaction on the up at Nottingham

Published Date
Tuesday 6th September 2011

The world of virtual reality comes to Nottingham

Published Date
Tuesday 20th September 2011

Media Relations - External Relations

The University of Nottingham
YANG Fujia Building
Jubilee Campus
Wollaton Road
Nottingham, NG8 1BB

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5798