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Interested in Retention? - Debrief Your Team!

Interested in Retention? - Debrief Your Team!

Susan A. Leys

It’s a busy Monday afternoon in your Emergency Department. All of the beds are full and you have several people waiting to be seen in the waiting area. As you look about the department, you notice the energy of your team throughout the department. After a stressful day of multiple codes and a heavy volume throughout your department, it feels like everyone’s “get up and go, has got up and went”.

What to do? How do you change the energy in the department in a manner where you and your team can continue to treat patients and families compassionately and expeditiously?

Debriefing is when healthcare professionals process events that take place that have an impact on your team. They can also implemented very effectively after high periods of acuity or multiple codes in acute healthcare environments. There are both informal and formal debriefings.

Formal debriefings are debriefings that are facilitated by two (sometimes three) practitioners who are trained in debriefing in healthcare settings. The most common model for debriefing is Critical Incident Stress Debriefing or Critical Incident Stress Management that was developed by Jeff Mitchell PhD – Founder of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation. Formal debriefings usually last about an hour and are followed by suggestions on how to manage the potential residual signs or symptoms which may be present for professionals after the stressful or traumatic event has taken place.

Informal debriefings occur when teams take a few minutes to process each code or difficult case as well as the effect that they had both professionally and personally.

There are three benefits to debriefing:

Case Review: allows your team to systemically process their feelings, responses and interactions with patients, families and colleagues in a manner which helps explore opportunities for enhanced care, team cohesiveness and collaboration across levels of care.

Stress Reduction: having the opportunity to meet (even if only for a short time) and debrief after an event has taken place allows clinical teams the opportunity to communicate their feelings and actions related to what happened. These interactions help reduce the physical and emotional stress that healthcare professionals may have when working several hours in fast-paced, critical situations.

Retention: debriefing after difficult cases or high volume periods helps teams become more cohesive and collaborative. It also helps teams transition between cases more expeditiously. Debriefings also provide a critical opportunity for new nurses (especially those who are new to your department or those who just graduated from Nursing school) working with preceptors in that, by seeing the team debrief, they can observe the supportive interactions provided by all team members.


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