Facilitator Janet Willhaus works with students.
SPOKANE, Wash. – You’re working long hours and can barely make the rent each month. Your teen daughter is in juvenile detention after she brought a weapon to school and you need to bail her out, even though you really can’t afford to. If you had a degree you could make more money, but you’ve had to drop out of college because you can’t pay for child care for your youngest.
While situations like these are an ongoing reality for some, the 48 students who participated in a recent poverty simulation exercise at WSU Spokane only lived through them for an hour.
“The point of the simulation was to help these future health care professionals understand that it’s not always easy for people to follow the medical therapies prescribed for them,” said Washington State University College of Nursing faculty member Barb Richardson. “No transportation, no child care, they can’t leave their jobs – there are a thousand different reasons.”
Learning by doing
Participants included health professions students from Washington State University, Eastern Washington and the University of Washington: future nurses, pharmacists, physical and occupational therapists, dental hygienists and physician assistants.
Each student was assigned a specific role within a “family.” Each family was given a scenario, along with play money, transportation passes and other props. The task at hand: keep everyone fed and sheltered while meeting other basic needs.
Closed, sorry, says the simulation’s
unrelenting banker, a.k.a Janet Frost,
assistant professor of education.
During simulation rounds, some students ran to be the first in line at the quick cash store to cash their checks or take out a payday loan. Others dropped their kids off at school or daycare before heading to the “general employer” to do their jobs or look for work.
Some headed to the community action center to inquire about options for assistance with housing, transportation, utilities and other expenses. And if all else failed, the pawn shop could supply much-needed cash in exchange for an appliance or jewelry.
Getting familiar with referral services
After the exercise, students talked about their experiences and what they had learned. “Stressed” and “frustrated” were some of the words they used to describe how the simulation made them feel.
Students also learned about the various community services offered in Spokane.
“A lot of students aren’t aware of what services might be available in the community,” said nursing Ph.D. candidate Janet Willhaus, who served as a facilitator. By including service providers as part of the exercise, she said, students get to know local resources that they will be able to refer their future patients to.
More simulations planned

Police officer Phil Woodford, a
graduate student in criminal justice,
patrols the neighborhood looking
for offenders.

Richardson said the exercise was well received by everyone who participated. She plans to organize a poverty simulation event at least once a year for an interprofessional group of students.

Faculty from several programs were looking into the possibility of making the exercise a required assignment for their students, she said.
Known as the Community Action Poverty Simulation, the exercise was developed by the Missouri Association for Community Action as a copyrighted tool to promote a greater understanding of poverty. The Spokane simulation was sponsored by the Riverpoint Interprofessional Education and Research (RIPER) student group, which is directed by Richardson.