Normalizing Uncertainty Through Simulations

Most fields, especially those that involve working with people, are not nearly as straightforward as textbooks might have students believe. However, many students find confronting uncertainty and not getting the “right answer” to be a discomforting experience. In Homeostasis I, Richard Schwartzstein and Jeffrey William see simulations as powerful exercises to get students used to navigating uncertainty. Through modeling, questioning, and devising scenarios without clear-cut answers, Schwartzstein and William emphasize to students the importance of “being okay with being wrong.”


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

  • Design simulations that demonstrate for students the inherent uncertainties and challenges of your given field. Employ these kinds of simulations to help students become comfortable confronting and engaging with uncertainty.
  • Emphasize students’ thought processes over their arrival at a single right answer. Consider finding ways to honor student mistakes in class and use them to deepen students’ thinking.
  • Admitting to errors is linked to a number of positive outcomes for both patients and hospital staff. Han and colleagues discuss the maladaptive cognitive patterns that can inhibit error disclosure. Researchers suggest instructors use challenging simulations to give students an opportunity to disclose errors while in training (Han et al., 2017). 
  • Error disclosure is a critical component of medical student preparation (Appelbaum & Appelbaum, 2017).