A photo of Francis J. Real.

Francis "Joe" Real, MD, MEd

  • General Pediatrician, Division of General and Community Pediatrics
  • Associate Director, General Pediatrics Research Fellowship
  • Co-Lead Digital Simulation, Center for Simulation and Research
  • Associate 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.

MD: Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, TN, 2012.

Residency: Pediatrics, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2012-2015.

Fellowship: General Pediatrics Master Educator, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2015-2017.

MEd: University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH, 2017.

Certification: Pediatrics, 2015.


General pediatrics; health disparities; medical education; virtual reality

> Video: Watch how Dr. Real uses virtual reality training for doctors and families 

Services and Specialties

Primary Care, General and Community Pediatrics

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Virtual reality informs clinical observation tool. Real, FJ; DeBlasio, D; Ollberding, NJ; Sikora, K; Herbst, R; Whitehead, M; Rosen, BL; Meisman, A; Crosby, LE; Klein, MD. The Clinical Teacher. 2023; 20:e13575.

Virtual Reality to Assess Resident Recognition of Impending Respiratory Failure During COVID-19. Odum, JD; Real, FJ; Rice, J; Meisman, A; Sahay, R; Zhang, B; Zackoff, MW. Hospital Pediatrics. 2023; 13:e2022006917.

Impact of a Remote Virtual Reality Curriculum Pilot on Clinician Conflict Communication Skills. Herrmann, LE; Elliott, LE; Sucharew, H; Jerardi, K; Zackoff, MW; Klein, M; Real, FJ. Hospital Pediatrics. 2023; 13:e2022006990.

Virtual communication training to address COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. Real, FJ; Meisman, A; Rosen, BL. Medical Education. 2023; 57:477-478.

Using Technology to Overcome Vaccine Hesitancy. Real, FJ; Zackoff, MW; Rosen, BL. Pediatric Clinics of North America. 2023; 70:297-308.

Overcoming Vaccine Hesitancy Using Community-Based Efforts. Crosby, LE; Real, FJ; Cunnigham, J; Mitchell, M. Pediatric Clinics of North America. 2023; 70:359-370.

170. Association between Social Determinants of Health and Completion of the HPV Vaccine Series. Meisman, AR; Sachdeva, YS; Real, FJ; Kahn, J; Rosen, BL. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2023; 72:s95-s96.

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. Academic Pediatrics. 2023; 23:185-192.

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; 63:865-873.

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. Academic Pediatrics. 2022; 22:1265-1270.

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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