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CSUB nursing students escape from everyday training with fun new way to learn

Nursing takes collaboration. That's something nursing students learn every day at California State University, Bakersfield, in addition to the essentials of caring for patients in a variety of specialties. No nurse does it all alone, and knowing how to communicate and work together is critical for students entering the field of health care.

Starting earlier this fall, nursing students have been able to sharpen their communication and critical thinking skills in a new way: seven escape rooms tailored to the content they are learning in classes.

"Nursing is such a team sport," said nursing instructor Krystal Ball. "So they have to work together as a team for the escape rooms because nurses have to work together as a team in hospitals."

Escape rooms have become a popular activity in the last several years. Typical escape rooms usually involve a specific theme or setting, with participants solving puzzles and working together to get through challenges and leave the room. For CSUB's nursing department, part of the School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Engineering, rooms are themed around certain medical scenarios, like Fundamentals Room of Errors, Cardiac Chaos and Birthing Bonanza.

"It was a lot trickier than I expected, going through and challenging your critical thinking skills and adapting," said Mykala Vannorsdall, a senior in the nursing program, after completing one of the rooms. "The escape rooms will help us find red flags together more efficiently than just reading about something. It helps put it into action."

Ball got the idea to make nursing escape rooms after attending the 2020 International Meeting on Simulation in Healthcare, where she learned about escape rooms being used for simulation in a variety of health care settings, including universities. It's all about "gamifying knowledge,"

Ball explained. She instantly thought of all the ways she could take this idea and run with it for her nursing students.

"I knew it would be daunting, but I had to try it," Ball said. "And it is so much fun to see the students learning. I can take content and turn it into a 15-minute quiz, or I can take the same content and turn it into a 15-minute escape room."

With a handful of clever supplies, ordinary nursing simulation labs become escape rooms, complete with clues, riddles and maybe a red herring or two. Ball worked with an escape room consultant Dakota Troxler, who helped with clues while Ball filled in the nursing knowledge. The rooms, which were funded by Diane Lake, are run during the nursing department's open skills lab, a time for students to come in and practice any skills they learned that week, and typically led by nursing seniors.

"It makes it less stressful for them because it's a game," Ball explained. "Sometimes doing simulations, they're so nervous that they forget things. This is so fun, and it allows their knowledge to come through more."

Because the rooms are built around specific topics, students need to have "unlocked" certain skills before they can participate in a given room. Seniors, who have now been through all those specialties, can participate in any of the rooms. Prizes for fastest times help keep students from sharing secrets with their friends who haven't yet gone through the room.

In addition to the escape rooms built around nursing skills, there is also a Midterm Madness "Alice in Wonderland"-themed room, where students can take a break from studying and have a little fun to help them recharge.

There is also an icebreaker room, with no nursing knowledge required. This is for new nursing students but, Ball said, could also be used as a team-building exercise for any faculty and staff on campus. For this room, participants are split into two teams with the first one to finish becoming the winner.

Where regular escape rooms take around an hour to complete, these are much shorter, with the icebreaker room taking 10 minutes and the others taking around 20 minutes.

When Vannorsdall and her classmate Randeep Gill, also a senior, took on the icebreaker room, the two were put on a team with other nursing students they didn't already know. Vannorsdall pointed out how that, too, is an important lesson for her future in nursing.

"In the future, we won't always be working with the same people every day, so we need to know how to work with anyone," she said.

For Gill, the icebreaker was his first time doing any kind of escape room, but he already saw the benefits these activities could have for his nursing education. He already knows how important communication is for nurses and thinks the escape rooms will be a fun way to sharpen those skills as well as his critical thinking.

"It's something different from what we're used to doing," he said. "It's definitely something I would do again."

Ball is happy to see the students having fun while learning the tools they will need in real-life situations. Getting the subject material down isn't just about earning a good grade but about making sure they are equipped to handle any scenario in their future careers as nurses.

"As a nursing instructor, we are always looking for new ways to help the students engage with the content and be able to apply it well so at the end of the day we are keeping our community's patients safer," she said.

Kelly Ardis is communications specialist for CSUB's School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Engineering.