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Debriefing as a Tool for Teaching, Feedback, and Reflection

August 8, 2023

When I was a pediatrician in the US Air Force, there was a lot of “briefing” and “debriefing.” “Briefing” happened before an event: you learned what to expect and what was expected of you. After the event, you either “debriefed” someone else or “were debriefed;” in these sessions, you discussed what had happened, what (if anything) went wrong, and how you might  approach a similar situation in the future.

Doesn’t this sound a lot like teaching, feedback, and reflection?

Drs. Maya Neeley, Travis Crook, and Joseph Gigante from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine think so. This week, they have an article that is being early released in Pediatrics entitled, “This Encounter Isn’t Over Yet: The Importance of Debriefing” (10.1542/peds.2023-063198). This article is part of the series on great clinical teaching from the Council on Medical Student Education in Pediatrics.

The authors provide a helpful framework to use when you debrief learners after any clinical encounter, but particularly challenging encounters:

  • Focus on a specific encounter.
  • Create a safe learning environment in which the learner feels like they can talk through what went right and what didn’t.
  • Promote reflective learning – what are lessons and insights that the learner can apply in future encounters?
  • Provide specific feedback that the learner can use to develop specific plans to improve their performance.

If you spend any time teaching learners, I would encourage you to read this helpful article. Even if you feel comfortable providing feedback in a debriefing, there are many examples of safe yet helpful formative language that you may want to incorporate into your debriefings.

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