Open Access Research article

Heart rate, anxiety and performance of residents during a simulated critical clinical encounter: a pilot study

Samuel Clarke1*, Timothy Horeczko2, Dale Cotton3 and Aaron Bair1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Emergency Medicine, UC Davis School of Medicine, 4150 V St., PSSB 2100, Sacramento, CA 95817, USA

2 Department of Emergency Medicine, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, 1000 W Carson St., Box 21, Torrance, CA 90509, USA

3 Department of Emergency Medicine, Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento, 6600 Bruceville Road, Sacramento, CA 95823, USA

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BMC Medical Education 2014, 14:153  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-14-153

Published: 27 July 2014



High-fidelity patient simulation has been praised for its ability to recreate lifelike training conditions. The degree to which high fidelity simulation elicits acute emotional and physiologic stress among participants – and the influence of acute stress on clinical performance in the simulation setting – remain areas of active exploration. We examined the relationship between residents’ self-reported anxiety and a proxy of physiologic stress (heart rate) as well as their clinical performance in a simulation exam using a validated assessment of non-technical skills, the Ottawa Crisis Resource Management Global Rating Scale (Ottawa GRS).


This was a prospective observational cohort study of emergency medicine residents at a single academic center. Participants managed a simulated clinical encounter. Anxiety was assessed using a pre- and post-simulation survey, and continuous cardiac monitoring was performed on each participant during the scenario. Performance in the simulation scenario was graded by faculty raters using a critical actions checklist and the Ottawa GRS instrument.


Data collection occurred during the 2011 academic year. Of 40 eligible residents, 34 were included in the analysis. The median baseline heart rate for participants was 70 beats per minute (IQR: 62 – 78). During the simulation, the median maximum heart rate was 140 beats per minute (IQR: 137 – 151). The median minimum heart rate during simulation was 81 beats per minute (IQR: 72 – 92), and mean heart rate was 117 beats per minute (95% CI: 111 – 123). Pre- and post-simulation anxiety scores were equal (mean 3.3, IQR: 3 to 4). The minimum and maximum Overall Ottawa GRS scores were 2.33 and 6.67, respectively. The median Overall score was 5.63 (IQR: 5.0 to 6.0). Of the candidate predictors of Overall performance in a multivariate logistic regression model, only PGY status showed statistical significance (P = 0.02).


Simulation is associated with physiologic stress, and heart rate elevation alone correlates poorly with both perceived stress and performance. Non-technical performance in the simulation setting may be more closely tied to one’s level of clinical experience than to perceived or actual stress.