A photo of Francis J. Real.

Francis "Joe" Real, MD, MEd

  • Attending Physician, Division of General and Community Pediatrics
  • Assistant Professor, UC Department of Pediatrics



As a general pediatrician, I love interacting with children of all ages, from newborns to young adults. And as a researcher, I enjoy finding ways to improve childhood health through development and evaluation of innovative educational programs and curricula.

I chose to practice primary care because it allows me to care for both healthy and ill patients, including children from all over the world. Because of the diversity of clinical pathologies and chief complaints that come with interacting with patients of so many ages, my days are filled with constant variation and intellectual challenges.

Working in pediatrics — and academic medicine — also lets me be a teacher. I enjoy opportunities to teach nervous, first-time parents about their newborn’s developmental expectations, or educate a teenager about the importance of asthma medications. I like teaching medical students about the findings of acute otitis media or a room full of physicians about the latest innovations in education research. Because success as a pediatrician is closely tied to outstanding teaching skills, I completed a research fellowship focused on medical education.

Through my research, I seek to help providers improve their communication skills, as effective communication with patients and families is instrumental in delivering optimal care. More specifically, I use virtual reality (VR) technology to help providers practice communication and receive feedback in a safe, immersive setting.

I recently led a collaborative effort between physicians, educators and technologists to create a VR curriculum for pediatric residents. Our goal was to address influenza vaccine hesitancy in the primary care setting. This intervention resulted in a statistically significant decrease in influenza vaccine refusal among providers that participated. I have also led other VR interventions related to human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination, asthma management, social determinants of health training, clinical skills assessment training and medication initiation.

I’m the principal investigator (PI) on a study funded by a Cincinnati Children’s Procter Grant. We’re assessing the impact of a VR curriculum on the consistency and effectiveness of behavioral health prevention strategies delivered by pediatricians.

I am co-PI on a National Cancer Institute R21 grant to assess the impact of VR training on provider communication related to the HPV vaccine.

I’m also a co-investigator on a multi-site Patient-Centered Outcome Research Institute (PCORI) grant. We’re assessing the impact of a shared decision-making toolkit that includes VR simulations on hydroxyurea uptake among patients with sickle cell disease.

I’ve received several honors and awards throughout my career. These include an Educational Achievement Award from Cincinnati Children’s (2019) and a Ray E. Helfer Award from the Academic Pediatric Association (2017). The Helfer Award is granted to the best medical education abstract submitted to the annual Pediatric Academic Societies meeting. Winning abstracts must meet criteria related to creativity and innovation, and whether they can make a measurable impact on pediatric educational practice.

During my residency at Cincinnati Children’s, I was also inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society.

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Increasing Coronavirus Disease 2019 Vaccine Uptake in Pediatric Primary Care by Offering Vaccine to Household Members. Burkhardt, MC; Real, FJ; DeBlasio, D; Beck, AF; Reyner, A; Rosen, BL. Journal of Pediatrics. 2022; 247:150-154.e1.

A Virtual Reality Curriculum to Enhance Residents' Behavioral Health Anticipatory Guidance Skills: A Pilot Trial. Real, FJ; Whitehead, M; Ollberding, NJ; Rosen, BL; Meisman, A; Crosby, LE; Klein, MD; Herbst, R. Ambulatory Pediatrics. 2022.

Impact of a Virtual Reality Curriculum on Human Papillomavirus Vaccination: A Pilot Trial. Real, FJ; Ollberding, NJ; Meisman, AR; DeBlasio, DJ; Pero, MB; Davis, D; Cruse, B; Klein, MD; Kahn, JA; Rosen, BL. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2022.

An Immersive Virtual Reality Curriculum for Pediatric Hematology Clinicians on Shared Decision-making for Hydroxyurea in Sickle Cell Anemia. Real, FJ; Hood, AM; Davis, D; Cruse, B; Klein, M; Johnson, Y; McTate, E; Brinkman, WB; Hackworth, R; Hackworth, K; et al. Journal of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology. 2022; 44:e799-e803.

Assessment of Competency-Based Behavioral Health Anticipatory Guidance Skills Among Pediatric Residents: the Role of Virtual Reality. Real, FJ; Whitehead, M; Rosen, BL; Meisman, A; Crosby, LE; Klein, MD; Herbst, RB. Journal of Technology in Behavioral Science. 2022; 7:115-124.

The Impact of a Gamified Curriculum Using Kahoot! on Musculoskeletal Knowledge and Skill Acquisition Among Pediatric Residents. Schultz, K; Klein, M; Sucharew, H; McDonald, J; DeBlasio, D; Cooperstein, E; Poynter, S; Huggins, J; Real, FJ. Ambulatory Pediatrics. 2022.

Evaluation of HPV Vaccine: Same Way, Same DayTM: A Pilot Study. Bishop, JM; Real, FJ; McDonald, SK Y E L; Klein, M; DeBlasio, DO M I N I C; Kahn, JA; Kreps, GL; Rosen, BL. Journal of Health Communication. 2021; 26:839-845.

Remote Virtual Reality Teaching: Closing an Educational Gap During a Global Pandemic. Young, D; Real, FJ; Sahay, RD; Zackoff, M. Hospital pediatrics. 2021; 11:e258-e262.

A Virtual Reality Resident Training Curriculum on Behavioral Health Anticipatory Guidance: Development and Usability Study. Herbst, R; Rybak, T; Meisman, A; Whitehead, M; Rosen, B; Crosby, LE; Klein, MD; Real, FJ. 2021; 4.

Engaging Caregivers and Providers of Children With Sickle Cell Anemia in Shared Decision Making for Hydroxyurea: Protocol for a Multicenter Randomized Controlled Trial. Hood, AM; Strong, H; Nwankwo, C; Johnson, Y; Peugh, J; Mara, CA; Shook, LM; Brinkman, WB; Real, FJ; Klein, MD; et al. JMIR Research Protocols. 2021; 10.

From the Blog

Virtual Reality Training Improves HPV Vaccine Acceptance
Infectious Diseases and Vaccines

Virtual Reality Training Improves HPV Vaccine Acceptance

Francis "Joe" Real, MD7/20/2022

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