Effects of medical training scenarios on heart rate variability and motivation in students and simulated patients

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Research regarding the experience of stress during medical training scenarios using standardised patients (SPs) has been primarily qualitative and has focused on the SPs. The purpose of this study was to quantitatively evaluate stress and motivation in both students and SPs during these scenarios by measuring heart rate variability (HRV) and administering the German version of the Questionnaire on Current Motivation (QCM).


A total of 44 medical students (23 women, 21 men) participated in two medical history-taking training scenarios. In one scenario the SP role-played a patient with a somatic disease; in the other the SP played a patient with a psychosomatic disease, creating easy and difficult scenarios, respectively, for the student. Each student interviewed one of 11 SPs (five women, six men), using the same SP in both scenarios. Heart rate variability was measured during baseline periods and during the training scenarios in both students and SPs. Motivation was assessed before each training scenario.


Heart rate variability was lower in both students and SPs during the scenarios compared with baseline values, but did not differ by scenario type. For students, motivation increased when the first scenario involved psychosomatic illness, but decreased when the first condition was somatic. For SPs motivation was consistent over time for scenarios involving psychosomatic disease, but decreased for somatic disease-related scenarios.


The training scenarios induced stress in both students and SPs, as indicated by decreased HRV. Student motivation was high, indicating that SP scenarios represent a valid teaching method. Further studies in the natural setting of SP examinations are needed.

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