UNLV health schools team up for poverty simulation

UNLV health schools team up for poverty simulation
Two UNLV medical and nursing students participate as a family in poverty simulation. Image: UNLV

LAS VEGAS — Researchers have known for some time that a person’s zip code can have as much of an impact on their health as their own genetics. So called social determinants of health–such as housing, food insecurity, transportation, education and physical environment–are all factors outside of traditional healthcare that can contribute to poorer health. 

Such health factors don’t necessarily make an appearance in general medical textbooks, despite their ability to influence a patient’s outcome. Educators at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, however, are ensuring that students learn about the struggles that some families can face in order to better serve them.

On Sept. 25 undergraduate population health nursing students, medical graduate students, and dental graduate students will participate in UNLV’s annual Poverty Simulation. The one-day interprofessional experience will bring together nearly 80 students in a series of fast-paced scenarios that simulate one month in the life of a low-income family.

Organizers stress that the simulation isn’t a game, though. 

“It’s an empathy building tool that illuminates both the challenges that individuals and families in poverty face and the strengths and barriers associated with many community services and systems,” university officials said in a statement. Students will “see firsthand how low-income families survive with limited resources and the essential ways healthcare professionals interact and provide quality service to them.”

Simulation leaders said students will play different roles during the activity as they encounter struggles most low-income families face daily, including applying for jobs, housing assistance, buying groceries on a small budget, taking their kids to school and transportation concerns.  During the simulation, there will be random cues that will alter their roles, such as life emergencies, and the students must adapt in real-time accordingly. 

This month’s Poverty Simulation is the first on campus since February 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the university to pause the activity. Read more about UNLV’s past Poverty Simulation events here.