Group of young men and woman smiling together, holding novelty props at the SMHC escape room for nursing education

UNE: Chancel Diazenza, Morgan Desmond, Cameron Mann, Matthew McDonald, Izzi Marcea, and Kyle Woodruff. SMHC: Jennifer Smith, Sarah Warner, Melissa Allen, Kathleen Sheehan-Tartre, and Hannah Ambrose.

You and your colleagues are heroes on a mission. You walk into a mock patient room; the door “locks” behind you. You’re equipped with a QR code and a phone, and given 20 minutes to escape. Think you can do it?

This is Southern Maine Healthcare’s (SMHC) unique take on the Escape Room game, a fun, team challenge designed to test and reinforce no-harm index topics, such as Catheter Associated Urinary Tract Infections (CAUTI), Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and pressure ulcers, at the hospital’s annual skills fair. The escape room requires teams to work collaboratively, solving puzzles and completing tasks within a set time period. The fun starts when participants scan a QR code that plays a video left by the previous shift’s nurse. The video reveals clues – an outdated white board, a patient diagnosis, etc. – that the team must use to solve puzzles. To complete a room, teams work together at seven puzzle-solving stations and undo five lock boxes using only clues in the room and teamwork. The escape room has a moderator to prompt the team and help keep them on track, when necessary. The game is mobile and can be set up in any room.

Kathleen Sheehan-Tartre, Nursing Director of Nursing Education and Staff Development at SMHC, hosted an escape room workshop, presented by Michael Defrancisco, Clinical Nurse Educator at Maine Medical Center, with staff development specialists, clinical nurse educators and UNE innovation students to inspire innovative ways to deliver education. SMHC’s Staff Development Specialist Hannah Ambrose and Surgical Services Nurse Educator Kate Campbell developed the escape room idea for the hospital’s annual skills fair. The skills fair is a mandatory training event for nurses, CNAs, site techs, ED techs and OR techs, so the team wanted to create an engaging, entertaining way to reinforce specific skills, while emphasizing that teamwork is necessary for success. Hannah and Kate had the opportunity to pilot the escape room and receive feedback from the education team and students.

The SMHC team collaborated with Justine Bassett, director of Innovation at the University of New England (UNE), to bring the idea to life. Justine worked with UNE nursing students, two biology majors and an education major who all showed interest in furthering the project. They filmed and acted in the video, created and painted signs for the rooms, and even made a 3D model that shows pressure points on the body to educate participants about pressure ulcers. Some of the UNE students also helped run the escape room at the skills fair. When word of the escape room’s success spread across campus, UNE professors began incorporating digital escape rooms into their teaching methods.

“Ongoing skills training is a critical part of healthcare, and this project gave the students a chance to meaningfully contribute to positive change,” Justine says. “The escape room teaches the same skills in a new and more creative way.”

So far, SMHC’s escape room has been used more than 100 times, and the event has inspired friendly competition using a leaderboard so teams can see their rankings and compete against each other.

“Our goal in developing the escape room was to create a meaningful, fun and interactive learning experience for staff. We had so much fun collaborating with the UNE students and they helped our vision come to life. As the moderator, it was exciting to see staff members work together as a team to solve puzzles to escape. The room was filled with a lot of laughs and encouraging words amongst those participating!”

– Hannah Ambrose, Staff Development Specialist, SMHC Nursing Administration

Next Steps

The SMHC team will continue collaborating with UNE Innovation on nursing education projects.


  • Hannah Ambrose, Staff Development Specialist, SMHC Nursing Administration
  • Kathleen Sheehan-Tartre, Nursing Director of Nursing Education and Staff Development, SMHC Nursing Administration
  • Kate Campbell, Nurse Educator, SMHC Ambulatory Surgery
  • Justine Bassett, Director, Innovation, University of New England

Our Purpose

MaineHealth Innovation builds connections to drive diversity of thought, educates to produce creative problem-solvers and funds to accelerate ideas. By leveraging the ideas, insights and expertise of all care team members to develop novel solutions to our unmet care needs, we are working together so our communities are the healthiest in America.

illustration of a light bulb with circuitry in the center