The great escape: A prescription for nursing success

5 – minute read

The patient, Mr. Jones, lies on his back under a blue blanket in a hospital bed, blinking up at the ceiling and breathing steadily. His vital signs are being monitored as three Florida Gulf Coast University nursing students work to uncover clues to what ails him.

If they fail to correctly diagnose the patient, they’ll also fail to “escape” his hospital room.

Mr. Jones is a human patient simulator, one of several realistic mannequins used to teach nursing students at FGCU. And his hospital room is not just a classroom — thanks to Traci Grove, it’s an escape room. 

FGCU nursing students

Grove is an instructor and nursing simulation education coordinator in FGCU’s Marieb College of Health & Human Services. As a healthcare simulationist, she creates realistic medical environments that help learners suspend disbelief.


Grove designed this escape room to help reinforce nursing basics to students in an Adult Health II class. Teams complete the exercise in the first few weeks of their first year of their two-year nursing program.


“I tell them ‘no spoilers,’” Grove says. Students are told not to share details of the escape room because they’re timed for how long they take to escape. Scores are announced later so that the winners can claim bragging rights. Each semester, after all teams complete the escape room challenge, she changes the scenario for the next term. 

FGCU nursing students
Nursing students (from left) Tramese Godfrey, Jai-Raelle Matthews-Whitfield and Amelia Ingley work to diagnose their patient, Mr. Jones, and “escape” his hospital room.
FGCU nursing students

Grove provides some information to the student nurses about Mr. Jones but refrains from revealing all the details needed to make a full diagnosis.


“Good luck ‘piecing’ together information in this room. You may start,” she announces during a recent session.

The three begin hunting for puzzle pieces. It takes them less than 90 seconds to locate three locked boxes and all the puzzle pieces. The first clue gives them a code that unlocks one of the boxes. Inside they find an envelope, a blacklight flashlight and a stethoscope.


Jai-Raelle Matthews-Whitfield tries to open the other locked boxes while fellow Fort Myers native Tramese Godfrey takes the stethoscope to put it on Mr. Jones’s chest. Amelia Ingley, a student from Lake Wales, switches on the blacklight flashlight and shines it over the original puzzle pieces and other papers in the room. Soon they find the next clue, which leads to another and so on.


“Some of the clues are red herrings,” Grove whispers to a visitor, a mischievous twinkle in her eye. Just like in a real-world situation, every detail a nurse might learn about a patient doesn’t always lead directly to a diagnosis.


A recurring issue nursing students face is that classroom learning doesn’t always align to what they do in real-world situations. Simulations offer them the ability to practice skills and make mistakes without endangering real patients. They can repetitively practice the nursing process and apply it in situations like those the escape rooms provide.

FGCU nursing students

The student trio spends several minutes trying to determine which clues will bear fruit.


Grove explains that they are stuck because they failed to do the first thing every nurse should do when they approach a patient ­— a head-to-toe assessment. “If they had assessed the patient fully, they would have found a key on his lower leg,” she says as an aside.


At the 21-minute mark, Ingley checks under Mr. Jones’ blue blanket and finds an ice pack taped to his leg.

“Guys,” she says, a mix of exasperation and glee in her voice. She and her teammates laugh at their nursing 101 error.


“They will never make that mistake again,” Grove says.


A key under the ice pack leads to the discovery that the patient needs his catheter removed. The next clue directs them to policies that provide them a kind of checklist for keeping Mr. Jones safe from infection. This new pathway opened up by the clues helps them make the right diagnosis, and they escape the room in just under 30 minutes.


During the debrief that follows, Grove and the students discuss what went right — they worked together as a team, communicating clues as they were found and reducing clutter to stay organized. Grove reminds them that the policies, which helped them solve the case, are the groundwork for providing safe patient care.


“And you were stuck there for about seven minutes,” Grove notes. “So thinking of a real-world setting, your patient might be deteriorating and you might not have seven minutes to put those puzzle pieces together.”


The students agree that a thorough head-to-toe assessment would have saved them — and Mr. Jones — precious time.


“Mistakes are puzzles to be solved, not crimes to be punished,” Grove says. “And that rings so true in simulation. It’s a safe place where students are allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.”


Matthews-Whitfield notes that at the beginning of the experience, she and her teammates “all kind of did our own thing. We found clues and boxes. It was ‘divide and conquer.’ But then we came together as a team — which is very important in escape rooms. And nursing.”

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