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Future nurses, teachers experience cycle of poverty in simulation

Feb 20, 2020
Two women use coupons at a table
Two women use coupons at a table

KOKOMO, Ind. – A prescription a patient can’t afford is one he or she probably won’t fill.

If she’s discharging a patient from the hospital, and realizes money is a concern, she can call the physician to request something available in a generic, so that patient doesn’t go without needed medication, or have to choose between that and food or other necessities.

As an Indiana University Kokomo nursing student, Megan Mann learned the importance of being mindful of situations like that, through a poverty simulation co-hosted by the School of Nursing and School of Education.

“People can be juggling a lot,” she said. “Sometimes they are trying their best, but they can’t always pay for everything. That’s when, as a nurse, I can advocate for my patients.” 

About 85 nursing and education students took on the personas of families in poverty in “Realville,” experiencing the trials and tribulations they face trying to make ends meet with limited resources.

Working in four 15-minute “weeks,” students role played going to full-time or part-time jobs, buying groceries, paying a mortgage or rent, opening bank accounts and cashing paychecks, and, in some cases, applying for social security or disability, or seeking legal advice for child support. 

Occasionally, there would be a wrench in the works, such as the announcement of a blizzard which closed the schools. That meant students whose roles included parenting had to either stay home from work or take their children with them, risking losing their jobs either way.

Others received a “bad news” card with a situation like losing a job or suffering a health crisis requiring a costly visit to the hospital, having a purse stolen with all the family’s money, or being evicted from their home.

Mason Pfefferkorn played the role of an oldest brother of three, abandoned by their mother and with their father in jail. When the snow day happened, he had to take his younger brothers with him everywhere, which meant he used up more of the transportation tickets that represented paying for a car, public transportation, or the energy required to get around.

Having been through the experience will make him a more empathetic teacher, he said.

“This opened my eyes to the fact you’re going to see kids in the classroom who might not be able to pay attention, and they may be dealing with these kinds of issues,” he said. “It’s going to help me not judge them or send them out of the room, but take more time with kids who need more help.” 

Cheryl Moore-Beyioku, lecturer in special education, co-led the event with Stephanie Pratt, clinical assistant professor of nursing. Their goal was for students to have a first-hand experience to encourage compassion.

“I hope they have an acute sensitivity to the struggles of people who are low income, so when they walk into their professions, they can be partners, helping their clients or their students, instead of condemning them, or blaming the victim,” said Moore-Beyioku. “With this new experience, we hope they can creatively help problem solve the best possible options.”

She also wants students to see that sometimes the people living in poverty aren’t at fault and are doing the best they can, but cannot seem to get past their circumstances.

“It’s important to know the real-life situations of the people we serve,” she said. “Poverty isn’t something that’s going to go away. We have to have teachers and nurses who can help advocate for their students and patients. We can’t be advocates unless we are aware.”

The simulation was facilitated by Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana.

“We hope the end result is they realize people who live in our communities go hungry, or can’t pay their bills, or they have to choose between buying groceries or leaving the utilities on,” Pratt said. “These kinds of stresses impact their health, or how they do in school. We want them to be mindful of those struggles.”

Indiana University Kokomo celebrates 75 years as north central Indiana’s choice for higher education.

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