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5 tips to debfrief EMS patient assessment scenarios

Help students get the most out of patient assessment scenarios and high-fidelity simulations with these debriefing tips


Personnel from Wake County EMS practice high-fidelity simulation of a patient in cardiac arrest.

Photo/Wake County EMS

Low-fidelity and high-fidelity patient assessment scenarios are great opportunities for students to see injuries and illness within the context of the patient assessment process. EMT and paramedic scenarios also allow students to practice applying treatments from the protocols within their scope of practice.

The final phase of any patient assessment scenario is debriefing. During the simulation debrief 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 an EMS instructor or facilitator, follow these general guidelines for debriefing EMT and paramedic patient assessment scenarios:

1. Focus debrief based on objectives

Don’t attempt to debrief every component of the scenario. Focus one-on-one or small group discussion on the components most important to the objectives of the scenario.

2. Facilitate and stimulate discussion

Ask questions of the students to stimulate discussion about the scenario objectives while avoiding statements that judge their performance.

3. Discuss the positive

Make sure to ask what went well during the scenario or simulation. It is often more difficult for instructors and students to talk about successes than it is to talk about negatives.

4. Ask specific questions to specific people

All students need to be ready to give a hand-off report (watch this video on how to do a hand-off report well). Specific questions, such as “What was your first set of vital signs for this patient?, prepares the student for the prehospital work environment.

5. Continue the instruction process througout the debrief

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?” (read “1 simple question” to learn this important teaching approach)

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.

Patient Assessment Scenarios
Realistic scenarios that reflect the patients EMTs and paramedics regularly encounter are critical to preparing students for the challenges of the EMS profession
Simplifying the patient assessment process for every patient can reduce variability, lower your stress and improve patient care

This article, originally published October 13, 2009, has been updated

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1 and EMS1. Greg served as the EMS1 editor-in-chief for five years. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, national registry paramedic since 2005, and a long-distance runner. Greg was a 2010 recipient of the EMS 10 Award for innovation. He is also a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and the 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Connect with Greg on LinkedIn.