Three fourth years enter a medical escape room. The door is locked behind them. How do they make it out – and what do they learn in the process?

The crime

Matt, Nic and I are like most typical fourth-year medical students. We study a lot, we own at least one branded scrub top, and we find it difficult to commit to a full day on the ward. 

Returning to the ward environment after the height of the pandemic, essentially full time, is tough – and watching foundation doctors fill in TTOs for three hours is even tougher. 

While on a geriatric placement, we tried our best to engage with staff and patients on the ward, but how much can you really learn by taking six histories in a row and trailing awkwardly at the back of a ward round?

Our confessed crime is not making the most of our placement hours, and the educational staff at Kingsmill Hospital in Derbyshire knew just what to do with smarmy fourth years who thought they knew it all.

The sentence

Escape rooms are a bit of a strange concept – traditionally a game played with friends where you pay strangers to lock you in a room, complete a series of puzzles within a set time, and are rewarded with the key to unlock the door. A charming and eccentric way to spend time with friends – but what if it was applied to medical education?

Our challenge was to make it out of the ‘Geriatric Escape Room’ and complete a series of patient-related tasks in 40 minutes, applying everything we’d learnt on our placement so far.

As we entered the room, we saw how seriously the staff had taken this – we were in a simulated hospital ward with beds full of patient actors; there was an ominous clock on the wall, a working telephone and several puzzles around the room. As the medical educators watched us from the control room, we were like rats in a maze, desperately trying to complete tasks, deal with confused patients and answer the constantly ringing telephone.

padlock key open

Photo credit: Alamy

We had (wrongly) expected this was going to be an easy, fun little simulation. By creating a real ward environment and giving us proper responsibility over clinical decisions and tasks, our expectations of both the simulation and ourselves rapidly changed.

Taking a mini mental state exam from a confused post-op patient who thinks she’s at a holiday resort, assessing risk factors in a stroke patient’s history, talking to angry relatives over the phone and filling in drug charts for pain relief all made us realise we might’ve found this easier if we’d been a bit more proactive on the real ward.

After completing tasks to receive information from the control room about where the key box was, before answering questions on strokes to get the combination, the sense of achievement from ripping open the box and revealing the key was second to none!

By creating a real ward environment and giving us proper responsibility over clinical decisions and tasks, our expectations of both the simulation and ourselves rapidly changed.

The redemption

We honestly can’t thank the staff at Kingsmill enough for putting us through the ringer and showing us how important it is to engage and take responsibility when on the ward.

We learnt so much by essentially being trapped in a room full of #F1Problems, including:

  • communicating with confused patients
  • caring for patients in pain
  • providing reassurance to patient relatives
  • prioritising tasks within a tight timeframe
  • multi-tasking
  • teamwork and encouragement
  • how to make better use of placement time.

Given the success and positive feedback from students who took part in the escape room, it’ll hopefully be something the university can continue for future placement students.

Aside from being a fun and original educational tool (we’ll never forget the mortality rates for the Bamford stroke categories ever again!), we all learnt something about ourselves and how we work under pressure in a controlled environment.

While we perhaps won’t be heading for an escape room in the real world anytime soon, the value of this unique educational experience has really benefitted us.

Placement criminals finally reformed.

This page was correct at publication on 24/05/2022. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.