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Reflections on UR Nursing's Poverty Simulation

  By Nadine Taylor
  Monday, January 30, 2023

Students and faculty at a mock grocery store during the School of Nursing's poverty simulation in Fall 2022.

Each semester, School of Nursing bachelor's and master's students participate in a live Poverty Simulation experience. This is a meaningful opportunity for students and volunteers to reflect on the experience of living in poverty.  This simulation immerses the students into the daily life of families experiencing the challenges of living in poverty in an urban setting. Each student is assigned a role as a family member, including parents, children, and elderly family members, with a variety of circumstances assigned to them.

“I genuinely felt the stress of being poor and overwhelmed. Even children have such a burden to carry. We need to be better about caring for vulnerable people in our communities.” - Student reflection

Faculty and staff volunteers take on roles as members of the community such as teacher, police officer, rent collector, pawnbroker, utility worker, grocer, social services case workers, chaplain, employers, health care workers, childcare provider and banker. The experience simulates four weeks where the students navigate daily life with the circumstances they are given and the choices available to them in an attempt to “make ends meet."

The experience ends with a facilitated discussion of the simulation in a psychologically safe learning environment that allows all participants to deepen their awareness, attain new perspectives, and reflect on how this immersive experience has challenged some of their assumptions concerning the vulnerable members of our community. The goal of this immersive experience is for nursing students be part of the solution, and improving how they provide care and services to meet the unique needs of families living in poverty.

Some Reflections from Students

“I genuinely felt the stress of being poor and overwhelmed. Even children have such a burden to carry. We need to be better about caring for vulnerable people in our communities.”

“It makes me want to learn more about helping address these issues in my own community. I can be a better advocate because of this.”

“I had no idea how undereducated I was on this subject. I'm ashamed to admit how oblivious and probably judgmental I was.”


Reflection from a Volunteer

"As a volunteer playing the role of employer is very eye-opening to see how each family faces the challenges and has to make tough choices. Although some try to gain employment the opportunities are few- we can only hire one person a week unless we fire someone.  For those who have jobs, it is a challenge to come to work on time, or even at all.  To simulate the experience, there are very strict rules on attendance and we fire people who have unexcused absences or are late two weeks in a row. One of the biggest challenges is childcare. I often have participants who want to bring their children to work when childcare fails, and we do not allow that.  They often lose their jobs due to the lack of childcare.  Another challenge the students face is lack of reliable transportation.  We collect five transportation passes each week, which represent either bus passes or car payment/gas. The employees often arrive the first week without five passes, and need to leave to buy or procure passes in some way. That usually leads to tardiness, and eventually losing their job. It is sometimes emotionally difficult to play a tough role like that and to see the look of disappointment in the students’ faces when they lose their employment due to the circumstances, but it is ultimately very rewarding to play a part in this education, which will help them be more informed healthcare providers." 

For more details about this experience, please view the poster presentation, Bridging Education Gaps Around Vulnerable Populations Through an Immersive Poverty Simulation, by Erin Baylor, DNP, RN, PPCNP-BC, ONP, CHSE, Associate Professor of Clinical Nursing and Director of Simulation and Experiential Learning.

For more information on the kit used for this experience, visit the Missouri Community Action Network Poverty Simulation.

Poverty Simulation Volunteer Opportunities

There are also Volunteer Opportunities for staff and faculty. Volunteers will be assigned a specific role in the community asked to stay "in character" the entire time to facilitate an authentic learning experience for our students.

Please reach out to Kelly King if you are interested in volunteering.

Learn More: Participate in an Online Poverty Simulation

Spent is an online poverty simulation game created by the Urban Ministries of Durham. It allows players to experience the challenges of living on $1,000 a month by offering interactive obstacles and choices.

We invite the School of Nursing community to participate in this game and join us on a Virtual Reflection Page to discuss and reflect upon your experience. (Please note that your comments are anonymous.)

This story appeared in the January 2023 issue of the SON Council for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion's newsletter. Nadine Taylor is an instructional designer at the UR School of Nursing who participated in our most recent poverty simulation.


Categories: Nursing Leadership

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