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Everyday EMS
by Greg Friese

Debriefing Patient Assessment Scenarios

Patient assessment scenarios are great opportunities for students to see injuries and illness within the context of the assessment. They also allow students to practice applying treatments. The final phase of any patient assessment scenario is debriefing. During this phase, the instructor's role is to review what happened and begin the process of transferring the lessons learned from the performance phase to future training activities or real incidents.

If you are instructor or facilitator, follow these general guidelines for debriefing:

1) Don't attempt to debrief every component of the scenario. Focus discussion on the components most important to the objectives of the scenario.

2) Ask questions to stimulate discussion about the scenario objectives while avoiding statements that judge performance.

3) Make sure to ask what went well. It is often more difficult for instructors and students to talk about successes.

4) Ask specific questions to specific people. All students need to be ready for giving hand-off reports. Specific questions — i.e. "What was your first set of vital signs for this patient?" — prepares the student for the work environment.

5) Use a question that teaches and elicits new information. If every group assessed a chest pain patient, each student reporting during the debriefing should add new information to the discussion.

As you near the conclusion of the debriefing ask, "What questions do you have?" rather than, "Do you have any questions?" A 'yes' or 'no' question almost always results in a 'yes' or 'no' answer. Asking, "What questions do you have?" almost always leads to a question.

About the author

Greg Friese is Editor-in-Chief of He is an educator, author, paramedic, and marathon runner. Ask questions or submit tip ideas to Greg by e-mailing him at

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