‘A roller coaster of emotions’: a phenomenological study on medical students lived experiences of emotions in complex simulation

Claudia C Behrens, Erik W Driessen, Diana H Dolmans, Gerard J Gormley

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BACKGROUND: Simulation-based education can induce intense learner emotions. The interplay between emotions and learning is less well understood. Gaining greater insights into learner emotions has potential to guide how best we manage emotions and optimise learning. This study aimed to understand learners' lived emotional experiences in complex simulation and the perceived impact on learning.

METHODS: Eight final-year medical students participated in the study. Wearing video-glasses, participants took part in a ward-based simulation. Video-footage was used to elicitate exploratory interviews and analysed using Template Analysis reflexively.

RESULTS: Analysis yielded four main themes: 'nervous anticipation': encapsulating the fear, anxiety and uncertainty experienced by learners prior to simulation; 'shock and awe': feelings of anxiousness and being overwhelmed at the start of a simulation; 'in the moment: flowing or buffeting with the emotions': experiencing fear of being judged as incompetent, but also experiencing positive emotions such as satisfaction; 'safe-landing?': whilst debriefing aimed to encourage more positive emotions, negative emotions about the simulation could persist even with debriefing.

CONCLUSIONS: Complex simulation can evoke intense emotions in students. If students experienced a positive progression, they reported positive emotions and felt competent which was perceived to have a positive impact on learning. If students experienced failure, they reported strong negative emotions which made them question about their future performance and was perceived as negative for learning. Bringing to the surface these complex emotional dynamics, could permit educators to be aware of and adapt the emotional climate within simulation in order to optimise learning.

Original languageEnglish
Article number24
Pages (from-to)24
Number of pages1
JournalAdvances in Simulation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 03 Jul 2021


  • Emotions
  • Learning
  • Medical Students
  • Simulation


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