DAVIE, Fla. -

Medical students and researchers at Nova Southeastern University are stepping into the virtual world to better serve patients.

In "Second Life" at Nova's College of Osteopathic Medicine, students can practice communication skills and diagnostic procedures on virtual patients.

"The key to great health care is building a relationship, a partnership if you will, between the patient and physician, and -- the more comfortable and the better listener he is, the more relaxed, and the better that communication is -- the better the health care outcome is going to be," said Marti Echols.

Students can use their avatars to practice and be less worried about making mistakes.

"This really just connects the art and science that's inherent in medicine," said Trevine Albert, a medical student. "It allows me to sit down with a patient virtually [and] go through their feelings as well as their ailments."

Researchers at Nova have also received received a nearly $1 million grant to study amputees in the virtual world. Sandra Winkler hopes it educates and connects amputees, offering a support group that isn't limited by time or space.

"[If] they're a new amputee, they can choose to be an amputee or they can choose to have their arms and legs," she said. "They can choose to be in a wheelchair or they can choose not to be in a wheelchair."