5 Tips for Effective Debriefing Sessions

Nurse educator running a debriefing session

Harvard’s Center for Medical Simulation defines debriefing as a conversation among participants with the goal of improving performance in real situations (Source). Simulation-based learning experiences should include a planned debriefing session. It answers important questions such as, “Was your lesson effective?” and “Do your students feel comfortable?”

In order to make the most of a debriefing session, consider the following recommendations:

  • Stay Positive: Students are their own harshest critics. While it’s important to ensure they understand and don’t repeat their mistakes, you must also provide them a comfortable environment to learn. Try beginning each session with positive feedback before delivering notes on their mistakes. Encourage them to work on their weaknesses, not to dwell on them.
  • Limit Guidance: As an educator, you have all the answers. It can be difficult to avoid sharing them, but it is important. Students allowed to discover solutions for themselves are more likely to understand and retain them. Begin each debriefing session by asking questions. Encourage students to discuss and debate among themselves.
  • Demand Participation: It’s easy for students to assume they understand a situation and tune out feedback. Demand more from your students. Each session can start with you soliciting each student’s thoughts and feelings from the scenario. Ask follow-up questions to keep them engaged, and ensure their grade reflects debrief engagement.
  • Focus on the “Why:” Simulations teach on many levels. In addition to psychomotor skills, students should begin to learn the standards and legislation that will impact them as young professionals. Reinforce these as key takeaways to relieve confusion as students begin working with real patients.
  • Separate Cliques: Some students structure their schedules so they are taking classes with their friends. When it comes to simulation scenarios, control how students are grouped together. Facilitating students’ ability to interact with unfamiliar peers in the classroom and sim lab will help them when they inevitably interact with unfamiliar co-workers.

For more tips on running scenarios, check out Sim Scenarios for Nursing Education, which reviews simulation supplies, environments, and conduct.

Evan Stiger is Marketing Coordinator at Pocket Nurse. He attended the Strategies: Educational Excellence for Healthcare Providers and Educators 27th Annual Conference at Penn State University. These tips were presented in “Effective Teaching Strategies Using Simulation.” The session was sponsored by PSU and Laerdal Medical.

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