Poverty simulation introduces nursing students to hardships

Published October 23, 2015

The School of Nursing recently guided its senior class through a poverty simulation that exposed the 127 students to the difficult economic decisions faced by low-income families.

The two-hour simulations, held Sept. 28 and Oct. 5 in Harriman Hall, tasked small groups of students, or “families,” to survive a month on a limited income.

Groups were responsible for finding adequate child care, gaining employment, paying their mortgage and utilities, and budgeting enough to afford groceries.

“Speaking as a health care provider, we tend to be somewhat myopic in our focus and have difficulty thinking about them outside our health care system,” says Kafuli Agbemenu, co-coordinator of the simulation and assistant professor of nursing.

“I wanted the students to get away from the clinical side and look at what happens when their patient is just a community member, and understand the different factors that influence their life circumstances.”

The simulation also was coordinated by Joann Sands, clinical assistant professor in the School of Nursing.

During the simulation, each week lasted 15 minutes. Families visited resources and services stationed at tables around the room staffed by more than 30 volunteers from the Buffalo and UB communities, including faculty and staff from the School of Social Work and School of Public Health and Health Professions.

Services ranged from a bank and social service agency to a pawn broker and payday and title loan facility. The simulation also included a police officer who targeted select groups.

At the end of the simulation, Agbemenu asked a simple question: “Were you able to feed your family this month?”

Many groups, she says, weren’t able to feed their families for two or three weeks. Of those that could, several resorted to pawning their household appliances or turned to crime.

“This happens in real life and we wanted the students to experience that,” says Agbemenu. “So when you ask why a patient isn’t taking their pills, you realize that this person only had so much to survive on and their options were: Do I buy my pills, take care of my children or pay the mortgage?”