Debriefing: a Little Carrot, a Little Stick 3


Donkey analogies aside, with the growing uptake of immersive team simulation, there is certainly a risk of falling into the softly-softly debrief trap. Thanks for sharing this video Luke Wainwright (@lukie27). Although slightly tongue in cheek (only slightly), it elucidates some of the things that have sat uneasily with me when observing some recent debriefs. The goal in education is to generate change. Change in attitude; change in culture; change in skill; change in confidence. Be very careful to not let your students debrief themselves into poor practice, misconceptions or overconfidence.

It is only practise that truly develops the skill of debriefing for learning. Try it, practise it and have an open and honest conversation with your team/trainees/students. While I don’t profess to be an expert in any capacity, I have made some mistakes and learned from them and have also debriefed up the hierarchical gradient (having lead debriefs of consultant medical staff – very daunting as a nurse). Below I have thrown in some ideas for debriefing.

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Absolute rule – The scenario is not an entree for a lecture.

1) Have very focused learning outcomes (2-3 as absolute maximum. If you have more, split them into separate stages of scenarios or run a pause and discuss).

2) Be flexible. If they didn’t achieve the goal of the scenario, but committed thoroughly and correctly to a course of treatment based on an accidental incorrect cue, debrief the scenario you observed, not the one you intended.

3) Gain consent for the open and challenging conversation. I find, before the scenario, explaining to the participants that we are going to come back in on completion, and have an open and critical conversation about the strengths and challenges experienced in the scenario and ask the group “Is everyone OK with that?” It is amazing what this does to the group dynamic once permission is granted.

4) While a structure is good, don’t be a robot. Observe others’ debriefing style, but don’t try and replicate exactly, you’ll come off as insincere.

5) Play to your strengths and enlist help from the room. (There is often expertise beyond the facilitator in the room. If you get a challenging question throw it back to the group for comment/answer).

I find the two papers below to be really helpful and applicable offerings on the art and science of debriefing with good judgement.

Eppich and Cheng (2015)

Jenny Rudolph et al (2007)


3 thoughts on “Debriefing: a Little Carrot, a Little Stick

  • Michael Moneypenny

    Thanks for the post and links. Admittedly at times I am guilty of the softly, softly in case people start crying 🙂 Your post has reinforced the need for open, honest chat.

    • Jesse Spurr Post author

      Thanks for the comment Michael. It’s been interesting of late. I have a colleague who employs a softly-softly inquisitive approach and with certain groups they seem to become awkward. Many students/participants are waiting for constructive feedback and won’t always be comfortable in the introspective environment of non-judgemental debriefing.

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