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May 2008 Issue

Medical student Lawrence Udom (right) attempts to trade in a camera at a staged pawn shop as classmates Mark Stephen and Erin Moushey wait in line.
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Poverty Simulation Gives Students a Reality Check on Patient Hardship

By Katie Pence
Published May 2008

Being a doctor isn’t quite the way we imagined it in Kindergarten, with our stuffed animals and stethoscopes.

Unfortunately, not everyone can be fixed with a prescription and a lollipop, particularly when the patient can’t feed his or her family, let alone pay for medical care.

of Medicine students encountered this firsthand on April 2, as they participated in

the Community Action Plan Simulation, sponsored by the Initiative for Poverty, Justice and Health (IPJH).

The event was held in the
gymnasium of the Cincinnati Junior Academy, an outreach program of Clifton Seventh Day Adventist Church.

About 50 students and residents took part in a poverty simulation where they had to role-play in the lives of low-income families for four 15-minute “weeks.”

“This simulation provided a way to introduce these students to the day-to-day hardships many of our patients face,” says Doug Smucker,  MD, an associate professor of family medicine, co-director of the IPJH and director of the event.

Students were put into “families,” assigned names and ages and given play money, food stamps, household items and transportation passes. They also were given directions on how to conduct their lives each week.

Tables were set up around the room to simulate different businesses including a bank, pawn shop, food store, payroll advance business, school, community action agency and a department of job and family services.

Not only did students have to face losing their homes and children due to financial and life issues, but robberies and arrests were also part of the simulation.

“This is a true eye opener for many of our students,” Smucker says, noting that this is the first year the simulation has taken place. “With activities such as this, we want our students to gain a new level of empathy for patients who have few resources and help them provide more effective health care for low-income patients.”

Second-year medical student Erin Moushey says the simulation was a valuable experience.

“For me, it is easy to disregard the fact that there are thousands of people out there, facing eviction from their homes, dealing with unemployment and lack of food,” she says.

“When you are more aware of the challenges people face, it allows you to be more compassionate and work harder to find ways to make health care less of a burden.” 

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