Nursing, Social Work Students Participate in GMercyU's Poverty Simulations

"That was humbling," said a nursing student after Wednesday's poverty simulation in the Rotelle Lounge.

It was the second of two poverty simulations held this week by GMercyU's Frances M. Maguire School of Nursing and Health Professions. Seniors in our "Health and Illness in the Community" course participated, as well as a group of GMercyU Social Work majors. These experiential learning events are designed to offer students a glimpse of what life is like for their future patients and clients living at the poverty level - something that's difficult to understand if you haven't lived it yourself.

"Chances are you will likely interact with people who you don't even realize are poverty stricken," said Heather Moulton of the Mattie N. Dixon Community Cupboard, Wednesday's guest speaker.

The simulations were co-run by Professor Teresa Lewis, RN, DNP, and Patricia Brown O'Hara, RN, PhD, and staffed with a team of invaluable faculty volunteers. Each simulation was organized in four 15-minute time periods, with each 15-minute period representing one week, for a total of one month in the life of a low-income community member. Each student was assigned a profile of a community member - the profiles shared where they lived (some were homeless), marital status, if they had children, if and where they worked, their income and budget.

"Our intention is to provide our students an opportunity to be better, and more understanding, advocates for their future clients."
- Professor Terri Lewis, RN, DNP

Students were also given specific goals: to keep their homes secure, go to work, buy the required amount of food each week, keep their utilities on, make their loan payments, pay for clothing and miscellaneous expenses, respond appropriately to unexpected factors in life, and keep school-aged children in school.

With their goals in mind, they navigated the Rotelle Lounge "neighborhood", visiting a simulated supermarket, social services center, a daycare, the bank, a healthcare center, a pawn shop, juvenile hall. They began to learn what it means to have your utilities shut off or get evicted because you couldn't pay your bills or rent, how to feed a family on minimum wage, how to juggle parenting your kids when you're working multiple jobs.

"What could be harder than this," said Social Work Program Director Wade Luquet, PhD, of the challenges that people at or below the poverty line face every day. One of the simulation's faculty volunteers, Dr. Luquet played the role of a robber who wandered the room during the event and occasionally seized what little money students had, to illustrate the stressful safety issues they deal with on top of financial hardship.

Afterward, students and faculty volunteers gathered to share their eye-opening experiences. "I had anxiety," said one student who had difficulty covering her expenses. "It was frustrating," said another of the challenge of having a co-parent in jail.

What they took away is a better sense of the obstacles our vulnerable populations face on a daily basis.

"This is our second year hosting a poverty simulation," said Professor Lewis. "Our intention is to provide our students an opportunity to be better, and more understanding, advocates for their future clients."