Nursing Students Learn About Patient Financial Hardships during Poverty Simulation

Students at table signing up for employment.

Students crowd the employment service station looking for work.

Published October 15, 2019

Should I pay our loans or the utilities?

Questions and comments like this are echoed throughout the room as individuals of all ages run around trying to make it through the “month” by paying off their bills, saving money for food, sending their children to school, and sometimes even bailing someone out of jail. It all lasted a total of 60 minutes, but, by the end, the students were shaken, to say the least.

Missouri's Community Action Poverty Simulation

“I’m a 14 year old who just came home to find a notice saying our utilities have been turned off. ”
Danielle Cieri, ABS Student

Students from NSG 410 Public Health Nursing for Population Health participated in Missouri's Community Action Poverty Simulation, which “promotes a greater understanding of poverty.” During the simulation, participants role-play the lives of low-income families from single parents trying to care for their children to senior citizens trying to maintain their self-sufficiency on Social Security during a “one month” period. This experience was in collaboration with the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County.

“It’s important for the nursing students to have this experience because it helps the students understand some of the struggles their patients may be facing, and helps them better understand some of the resources the community may offer,” says Joann Sands, DNP, ANP-BC, NSG 410 course instructor.

Students role-playing school children.

Students acting as children attend school each weekday.

The simulation assigns each participant an identity based on a real individual, and they have to live the life of that person in four 15 minute time intervals, each representing a week. The families were challenged to survive the “month” with few resources and a few surprise challenges, such as an unexpected October snowstorm that shut down needed services and finding child care during a school break.

The students also faced hardships like eviction, living in a shelter, being robbed and having their utilities shut off, just to name a few.

Danielle Cieri holding shut off notice.

Cieri shows the shut off notice she found when she arrived at "home."

“I’m a 14-year-old who just came home to find a notice saying our utilities have been turned off. This made me feel very anxious, and I didn’t know where my mom was and I didn’t know what to do,” says Danielle Cieri, ABS student.

Other students were challenged to feel what it was like to live on their own and have no one to rely on, or simply just someone to talk to.

Student sits alone in a folding chair.

Kujawinski sits alone as her fellow classmates work together.

“It’s really hard to be doing this simulation alone because you have nobody to bounce ideas off of and no ‘family members’ to help you, so you’re really alone,” explains Lauren Kujawinski, ABS student, acting as Eunice Ussar, an 85-year-old woman.

Jennifer Owen, simulation facilitator and account executive for the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County, said, “The poverty simulation was really interesting because [the students] started out very calm and methodical, and they thought, ‘Ok, I have this figured out,’ but as the 'weeks' went by, the wheels came off and they got more and more stressed out. I think they really started to understand the realities of a life in financial hardship.”