Apr 10, 2016

Poverty Simulation Day: Learning To Make Do in the Health Care System

The students enrolled in the Interprofessional Education course Health Care System and Health Promotion (IPE 3500) had the unique opportunity to participate in a new activity called Poverty Simulation Day. The simulation depicts a month in the life of a low-income community where students partake as single adults, families, or senior citizens trying to make the best of their financial circumstances.

Poverty Simulation Day, held in April, was implemented into the curriculum for the first time this past fall semester by IPE 3500 instructor Leslie Hinyard, PhD. Dr. Hinyard felt that this simulation could help students understand the struggle millions face each year when seeking health care while living on minimum wage.

“Our goal as a Center is to train the future generation of healthcare professionals to work interprofessionally and to learn with, from, and about others on the healthcare team,” Dr. Hinyard states as the reasoning behind adopting the simulation day. “In order to practice in a patient-centric fashion, practitioners must be able to understand the perspectives of various patients, which can be difficult when the patient comes from a background very different from that of their provider. The poverty simulation is one way that we can engage students, bring them outside what they know, and give them a glimpse of the world from another perspective.”

During the simulation, students are placed in groups and given various financial scenarios that range from having low income jobs to living off of social security. Students have to figure out how to use the money to support their simulation families with the provided services within the simulation. The community services provided included a bank, a grocery store, a daycare and school, social services office, a pawn shop, and much more. During the course of four 15-minute “weeks”, these families had to complete weekly tasks that provided basic necessities for their families to survive.

Student, Adrian Crosson started to realize the hardships this activity depicts early on during the simulation. “During the entire month of the simulation, I don't think we bought groceries more than once and when we did, it was barely enough to feed one person for one day. All of the basic things I take for granted - sleep, hundreds of food options, an enormous recreation center, an extensive education on how to keep my body healthy and navigate the healthcare system – are seen as luxuries to the poor. They don’t have any of these things and unfortunately may never will given how difficult it is to overcome poverty in America.”

Overall, by week three, the students began realizing how difficult it is to live in these conditions. After completing the simulation, Dr. Hinyard held a class debrief where students expressed the tactics they used to get by as well as the feelings that came up during their temporary living conditions.

Crosson once again spoke up during this debrief explaining, “I always wanted to help change this [health care system]. At the very least decrease the number of people who are forced to live this way, but I feel as though I now have more insight in the ways I can help. I can now recognize the areas where people's lives could be improved within this system.”

Dr. Hinyard elaborates on the importance of this activity for future health professionals stating that, “Our current health care system can be difficult to access, and even more difficult to afford.  The poverty simulation simulates the day to day realities of people who have multiple demands on their time, their energy, and their limited income.  If people are making ends meet, one health problem might cost them their ability to pay rent.  Even if they have insurance, a family may not be able to take their child to the doctor because they cannot afford the copay.  Many of the students realize that the multiple demands on their time have them forgo health care altogether because, when faced with competing needs, healthcare often takes a backseat.  The simulation gives students the opportunity to see these competing interests in a way they may not in their day-to-day lives.”

IPE 3500 will continue the Poverty Simulation Day for future semesters due to the positive feedback from the students and faculty involved.
For more information about the Community Action Poverty Simulation, check out the Community Action Agency of St. Louis County. Also, make sure to like our Facebook page as well as follow us on Twitter for more SLU IPE related news.

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