Operationalizing Healthcare Simulation Psychological Safety: A Descriptive Analysis of an Intervention

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Despite efforts to prepare a psychologically safe environment, simulation participants are occasionally psychologically distressed. Instructing simulation educators about participant psychological risks and having a participant psychological distress action plan available to simulation educators may assist them as they seek to keep all participants psychologically safe.


A Simulation Participant Psychological Safety Algorithm was designed to aid simulation educators as they debrief simulation participants perceived to have psychological distress and categorize these events as mild (level 1), moderate (level 2), or severe (level 3). A prebrief dedicated to creating a psychologically safe learning environment was held constant. The algorithm was used for 18 months in an active pediatric simulation program. Data collected included level of participant psychological distress as perceived and categorized by the simulation team using the algorithm, type of simulation that participants went through, who debriefed, and timing of when psychological distress was perceived to occur during the simulation session. The Kruskal-Wallis test was used to evaluate the relationship between events and simulation type, events and simulation educator team who debriefed, and timing of event during the simulation session.


A total of 3900 participants went through 399 simulation sessions between August 1, 2014, and January 26, 2016. Thirty-four (<1%) simulation participants from 27 sessions (7%) were perceived to have an event. One participant was perceived to have a severe (level 3) psychological distress event. Events occurred more commonly in high-intensity simulations, with novice learners and with specific educator teams. Simulation type and simulation educator team were associated with occurrence of events (P < 0.001). There was no association between event timing and event level.


Severe psychological distress as categorized by simulation personnel using the Simulation Participant Psychological Safety Algorithm is rare, with mild and moderate events being more common. The algorithm was used to teach simulation educators how to assist a participant who may be psychologically distressed and document perceived event severity.

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