Nursing, dental students gain patient insights via poverty simulation

Published 04.01.2024

Photos by Jennifer Cline, writer/magazine editor

Dental Hygiene
Nursing & Health Sciences
Faculty & Staff
“The Chen family” discusses their options. From left: Alexia Seyler, dental hygiene; KyLeigh L. Alexander, dental hygiene; Temitope Olanrewaju, nursing LPN-RN; and Abby Keister, nursing.

Sixty-six nursing and dental hygiene students took part in a “poverty simulation,” designed to put them in the shoes of families trying to meet obligations on a low income.

Through four 15-minute weeks, families – some newly unemployed, some recently deserted by the “breadwinner,” some homeless, some recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and some senior citizens receiving disability or retirement or grandparents raising grandchildren – were tasked with keeping their homes secure and their families fed. That included obtaining and keeping a job; paying utilities, mortgages and rent; purchasing food; securing transportation; and sending children to school or providing daycare. It also included “luck of the draw” cards that could bring good news or throw a wrench into a family’s plans.

Throughout the course of the “month,” four families who entered the simulation as homeless secured housing, while six other families ended the simulation without homes. Others had utilities shut off, pawned appliances and other valuables, and landed in “jail” when their children were “neglected” or they were enticed to take part in illegal “side businesses.”

During a post-activity discussion, students reported feeling stressed, worried and hopeless.

“I saw you making decisions between buying prescriptions and paying for food,” said Melissa L. Furman, instructor of nursing, who played the dual roles of shopping center clerk and doctor. “That’s real life.”

Dental hygiene student Elizabeth L. Ortiz, of Elizabethtown, felt the importance of becoming aware what resources are available to the patients she will eventually see.

“You never know what someone else is going through,” many students noted.

Terri A. Stone, assistant professor of nursing, has led poverty simulations for students in the Community Health Nursing class for several years. This year, it became an interprofessional collaboration with students in the dental hygiene program, as well as students in nursing instructor Steve C. Sofopoulos’ Adult Health Nursing course.

The simulation is a product of the Missouri Association for Community Action.

Jodie D. Baney, part-time instructor of nursing, makes a purchase from shopping center clerk Melissa L. Furman, instructor of nursing.
Ama Surwaa, a nursing LPN-RN student from Port Royal, negotiates with the proprietor of “Big Dave’s Pawn Shop” (played by nursing instructor Steve C. Sofopoulos).
Grace Hicks, clinical director of dental hygiene, playing the role of public school teacher, offers facts about homelessness to her “pupils.”
Bridget E. Motel (right), assistant professor of dental hygiene, consults with a student as she plays the role of child care provider. She also served as police officer for the simulation.
Alexander talks with Terri A. Stone, assistant professor of nursing and facilitator of the simulation.
“Big Dave” discusses a potential (and illegal) side job with “the Epperman family.”
Nate Woods Jr., special assistant to the president for inclusion transformation, offers a prerecorded message to help participants to consider: “Why are people living in situations like you just experienced?”