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Poverty Simulation Gives Future Practitioners Insight into Lives of the Poor

EAST LONGMEADOW — Students from six area college health science programs will have to navigate eviction, juggle childcare, and get from their doctor’s office to the pharmacy before it closes — with limited transportation options. In other words, they’ll experience just another day in the life of the poor. The difficult decisions, catch-22s and varying degrees of humiliation that poor people face will be conveyed to students as they participate in a poverty-simulation exercise as part of their medical training through the Pioneer Valley Interprofessional Education Collaborative.

The event will take place on Tuesday, April 16 from 12:30 to 5 p.m. at the Philip H. Ryan Health Science Center on the East Longmeadow campus of Bay Path University.

The simulation will include students in Bay Path’s physician assistant and genetic counseling programs, as well as students from Elms College (RN), Western New England University (PharmD), Westfield State University (RN), Greenfield Community College (RN), and Springfield College (PT).

These students are positioned to be the future community practitioners in hospitals and healthcare settings throughout Western Mass. and Greater Hartford, home to cities where over one-third of the population lives below the poverty level. At Bay Path, 70% of graduates of the physician’s assistant program go on to work in the region. Participating in a poverty simulation offers perspective on — and compassion for — those they will serve and can help inform the type of treatment they’ll provide.

“As providers, we’ll ask patients to do things we often think are simple tasks: fill the prescription, go to follow-up appointments, choose a better diet for your diabetes. The reality is, poverty is complex, and by beginning to understand the role poverty plays in decision making, providers can gain a new perspective and greater appreciation for decisions patients make,” said Theresa Riethle, director of the Physician Assistant Studies program at Bay Path. 

Poverty simulations are increasingly being integrated into college courses, trainings, and professional-development workshops to give those who work with the poor greater insight into the challenges that inhibit access to care. The program was designed by the Missouri Community Action Network, a group of organizations working to end poverty in that state. The group developed the Poverty Simulation Kit, a set of cards that describe various personas and scenarios. Cards are distributed to participants, who must then navigate the maze of social services, medical-care settings, transportation barriers, and childcare arrangements as they attempt to secure food, shelter, and healthcare.

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