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Poverty Simulation Provides an Immersive Educational Experience for UTHSC Students

UTHSC students participated in a poverty simulation created to build understanding of the social and financial circumstances their patients may encounter so they can provide high quality care.

More than 100 students participated in a poverty simulation staged recently by the Office of Student Affairs and Community Engagement at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

The simulation was designed to help students become better caregivers by learning about and understanding some of the issues their patients may face in accessing health care. During the simulation, students were assigned roles that were based on situations families and individuals might face in life.

Each student received an information packet containing the simulation’s guidelines and information about their assigned roles. Students participated in four 15-minute sessions representing four weeks of living in their assigned scenarios. The simulation included stations representing agencies, such as social services, utility and mortgage companies, public school, a health clinic, and others. Given limited resources, the students were challenged with visiting these stations and making decisions about their lives based on the financial and social resources they were assigned.

“We want students to have the experience of making decisions in a resource-constrained environment,” said Charles Snyder, PhD, MPH, EdM, associate vice chancellor for the Office of Student Success. “We want them to be faced with those challenging scenarios, so that hopefully they can apply that to their clinical practices and interact with people that have many different types of living experiences.”

The simulation is a part of the Office of Student Affairs and Community Engagement’s Quality Enhancement Plan, a multi-year commitment to transform student learning with a focus on the social determinants of health.

This poverty simulation was the first large-scale interdisciplinary simulation by the Office of Student Affairs and Community Engagement’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) Community Engaged Care initiative, since the pandemic. The Community Engaged Care initiative is part of UTHSC’s dedication to prepare students to acknowledge and address the social and economic components of health in the communities they will serve.

“It really opened my eyes,” said Brittany Borduner, a dental hygiene student at UTHSC. “I knew about poverty and I knew it was really hard for certain people, but I never knew it was this hard.”

For Borduner’s simulation scenario, she was an unemployed 19-year-old high school dropout with a boyfriend and a 1-year-old dependent seeking a job, while living in a homeless shelter.

“In dental hygiene, I am definitely going to be a listener and try to help whenever I can,” said Borduner, regarding the experience and its preparation for interacting with patients in the future.

The next poverty simulation is set for Tuesday, August 2.