Debriefing the Emotional Experience of the Simulation

When the simulation has formally ended, this does not mean the learning is over. Debriefing the simulation experience with students is a critical component of achieving instructors’ learning objectives. More intense than a paper case, role plays and simulations also stir emotions and raise stress levels among participants. Given this, taking time to debrief the anxieties and emotions simulations raise is imperative. In this video, Richard Schwartzstein, Jeffrey William, and Homeostasis I students discuss the importance of acknowledging the emotional component of the work and interrogating how simulation participants felt during the learning exercise.


Richard Schwartzstein, Ellen and Melvin Gordon Professor of Medicine and Medical Education

Student Group



Harvard Medical School


Homeostasis I

Group Size

40 students

Additional Details

First-year prerequisite

  • Simulations stir emotions, so create time and space during a simulation lesson  to allow students to debrief and process these emotions. This is a helpful routine for them to practice in class as they will need to acknowledge their emotional responses and process them once in the field. 
  • Help your students learn to manage emotions spurred by simulations so they can access and apply their knowledge effectively in similarly pressure-filled situations.
  • Before you weigh-in as the expert in the classroom, have students share out first during the debrief. After students have sufficiently processed, share your own observations and/or facilitate a broader group discussion about the activity and its key takeaways.
  • According to Issenberg and colleagues, feedback is the most important element of medical simulations. Feedback can be given by the instructor in real-time through suggestions or questions (2005). The importance of feedback suggest a facilitator role may be most appropriate for instructors using simulations.