Role-playing students get perspective on patients' real-life struggles

Published 05.03.2019

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Nursing students participated in a simulation in April that made them think about the choices they would make – and that many of their future patients will face – given the constraints of poverty.

During a “poverty simulation,” created by Missouri Community Action Network, students in a Community Health Nursing course were assigned to families with specified incomes and adhered to several rules: spending seven minutes of each 15-minute week at work (if they were employed); making sure children were cared for; paying for transportation to get to any destination; keeping their home secure and their utilities on; making loan payments; and providing adequate food, clothing and health care for their dependents.

Melissa Edmonds, family/community outreach specialist for STEP Head Start, playing the role of a social service agency, gauges a student role player’s financial needs and eligibility for government assistance. The student is Kiara N. Meiser, of Lock Haven.Meanwhile, nursing program faculty, staff and students, joined by community volunteers from the United Way and STEP Head Start, played the roles of banker, employer, superstore clerk, payday loan operator, pawn shop owner, community agency employee, social services employee, interfaith services director, health care provider, school teacher, utility bill collector and police officer.

A student examines resources and formulates a plan.Some had disabled family members; one family was surprised with needing to provide glasses for a child; some told their children they could not participate in a school field trip because they could not both pay the fee and meet other obligations. Some were stuck at home waiting for spouses to earn a paycheck and purchase more transportation passes, while others had to stay home to care for children when they couldn’t attend their school’s field trip. Some could not cash their paychecks at the bank because they did not have accounts, and some could not get accounts because they were a credit risk.

Meagan S. Dailey, of Dushore, purchases necessities from the “Food-A-Rama Super Center,” staffed by student Serecia S. Durson, of Beaver Meadows.“I felt like there was no way out of poverty,” said student Emily L. Tashner-Thompson, of Muncy. “I asked the employer if there was opportunity to advance.”

“We didn’t have money, so we just stole things,” another student said. Others, playing the roles of minors in their assigned family, found it difficult to go to school when they felt they could be helping their family.

“It was stressful, even though every part of this was fake, and I’m sitting here with a full belly and had my morning coffee,” said Dustin E. Neumann, a student from State College.

Student Jarrett M. Reidy, of Montoursville, and Emily L. Tashner-Thompson, of Muncy, line up to meet with “banker” Ronald A. Frick, president and CEO of Lycoming County United Way.Poverty is an important topic, said Ronald A. Frick, president and CEO of the Lycoming County United Way, who played the role of banker. Frick explained that 40 percent of Americans struggle from paycheck to paycheck.

A simulated family meets and plans between “weeks.” From left are students Kaitlin L. Andersen, of Mastic, N.Y.; Matthew W. Stillman, of Kennett Square; and Sarah E. Boehnlein, of Lewisburg; and Brittany Fischer, United Way’s vice president for community action.“That is 40 percent of your patients,” he said. “And now they will be in the hospital, not working. They are wondering who will take care of their kids? How will they pay their hospital bill?”

In addition to helping students understand the struggles their patients – or family members visiting their patients – might be facing, it also helped them to become aware of the resources available to help those who need it.

United Way’s vice president for community action, Brittany Fischer, emphasized that the future health care providers should be proactive in referring patients to those resources. Fischer played the role of a family member during the simulation.

For some of the students, the situation was very much like real life. They reported that they might be homeless today if someone hadn’t told them about the help available to them in this community.