For decades, medical education has followed a timeworn path — heaps of book learning and lectures, then clinical rotations exposing students to patients.

But as technology explodes into patient care (surgeons can preview operations using virtual 3-D images built from a patient’s scans), the gap between medical education and real-world care has become a chasm.

In what looks like an urgent game of catch-up, medical and nursing schools across the country are retooling how and what they teach. (What about pharmacy and dental schools?) This is also getting a boost from concern about the looming shortage of primary caregivers.

Those questions are redesigning health care education, with more community-based clinic rotations, special programs (and scholarships) for rural and underserved students, and a greater role for nurses and nurse practitioners. As schools seek to make learning more efficient, technology — including virtual reality, augmented-reality software and high-fidelity simulations (mannequins “breathe,” cry, sweat and respond to medication) — is a big part of that.

The availability of tools like virtual-reality goggles (about $200 a pair), along with a growing library of software, is changing how students acquire science content. But the bigger deal may be what technology is doing to skill learning.

No one wants to be the first human a student intubates (navigating a breathing tube down a patient’s throat), yet students have often trained on real patients. While it can take years to develop the dexterity, control and confidence to smoothly insert a central line, lifelike simulations are giving students more chances to practice before plunging in for real.

In replica hospital rooms fitted with bed-bound mannequins programmed to mimic conditions like strokes and seizures, and that can bleed, blink and give birth (there’s even a realistic placenta), students get deliberate practice.

Instructors have used mannequins for decades to teach CPR. But recently, technology has advanced, giving students the realistic experience of caring for a patient.