The University of Central Florida College of Nursing has received a $1 million grant to establish an endowed chair for healthcare simulation. Research professor Gregory Welch, Ph.D., a computer scientist and engineer, has been appointed to the chair.

The Florida Hospital Endowed Chair for Healthcare Simulation will support the research and development of enhanced simulation technology to improve health care education.

“We are grateful to our partner, Florida Hospital, for its great generosity,” said Mary Lou Sole, Ph.D., interim dean of the College of Nursing. “This new endowed chair underscores the College of Nursing’s commitment to becoming a national leader in developing and testing innovative technologies to enhance nursing and health care education as well as patient care delivery.  Ultimately, patient outcomes will be improved.”

This is the sixth endowed chair established in the College of Nursing, and the second chair that Florida Hospital has endowed at UCF. The first is in the College of Medicine.

“Dr. Welch brings significant education and experience in simulation from a culture outside of health care, and we believe he will challenge our thinking about medical simulation in all the right ways,” said Sheryl Dodds, chief clinical officer at Florida Hospital. “We feel his work will have a positive effect on both health care education and our clinical operations. We are excited to be working with Dr. Welch, UCF and other professionals as we explore new opportunities and expand the Florida Hospital approach to simulation in health care.”

Sole also welcomed Welch to his new appointment, saying that he brings both a record of technological innovation – he is the co-inventor on multiple patents – and a longstanding interest in health care.

“With the endowed chair for healthcare simulation, Florida Hospital has demonstrated once again the impact that giving to UCF can have on real world problems,” said Robert J. Holmes Jr., CEO, UCF Foundation. “In its generosity and partnership with our university, Florida Hospital is ensuring that health care education meets the needs of our communities in Central Florida well into the future.”

While a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he earned his Ph.D. and is still an adjunct professor, Welch led research efforts to develop three-dimensional remote health care consulting technology, which would allow physicians to “look over the shoulder” and coach emergency medical personnel through necessary emergent procedures while responding to motor vehicle crashes and other emergencies.

Prior to academia, he worked on the Voyager Spacecraft Project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and on airborne electronic countermeasures at Northrop-Grumman’s Defense Systems Division.

His primary focus now is improving the simulated patients that are used in the education of nurses and other health care professionals, as well as other uses of technology for patient care. His research interests include virtual and augmented reality, human tracking systems, human surrogates for training and telepresence, computer vision, and the capture of human movement for simulation and training, particularly related to health care.

“Computer scientists don’t exist to develop technology and conduct experiments in a vacuum,” he said.  “As one of my mentors, Fred Brooks, says, we are tool smiths who support the work of others. Health care professionals help other people and so supporting them appeals to me personally.”

The tenured chair includes appointments to the UCF nursing faculty, the Institute for Simulation and Training, and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Welch expects the multi-disciplinary nature of his appointment to allow him to generate collaboration between computer scientists and health care educators, practitioners and organizations so that UCF can develop the next generation of health care technology.