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Martin Hall Agency students facilitate poverty simulation

Written by Max Russell, public relations student

MHA Simulation TeamThe MHA simulation team poses for a picture together.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed health inequities that illuminated the critical need for an enhanced focus on culturally relevant, sensitive, and compassionate care education. To begin to address this, West Virginia University Reed College of Media students in Martin Hall Agency (MHA) partnered with the WVU School of Public Health, the School of Pharmacy, the HSC Office of Interprofessional Education, and the STEPS Center to integrate social equity into the student experience.

Through a grant awarded by the WVU Provost’s Office, the partners developed a simulation for Health Science and Public Health students that enabled them to experience challenges and barriers faced by often marginalized populations. On Dec. 2, MHA students successfully held a pilot Community Action Poverty Simulation at the WVU Health Sciences campus.

“The Poverty Simulation is a true example of interprofessional education,” said Dr. Gina Baugh, the director of interprofessional education for the WVU Health Sciences Center. “It brought together students, faculty and staff from across the University to learn about, from and with one another. The student leaders did an excellent job planning and implementing this collaboration.”

Participants in the simulation ranged from Morgantown City Council members and social service providers to WVU Health Science students from various disciplines such as dental hygienics, public health and medicine. At the start of the simulation, participants were assigned a new identity and family group. Each family worked together to accomplish their goals throughout the simulation. However, the families all had different circumstances — some included two working adults, some had children and some were homeless.

Poverty Simulation Participant

A particpant playing the role of a parent holding a child waits in line to secure food.

Over the course of four simulated weeks (15 minutes each), participants were tasked with accomplishing their family’s goals, which included reporting to an employer, ensuring their child attended school, paying utilities and securing food. They had to face unexpected situations. Simulation facilitators would randomly hand “luck of the draw” cards to families, bringing either good or bad fortune. Also, a volunteer playing the role of a thief was sent around the simulation to steal from unsuspecting families. One such family had their transportation cards stolen, rendering them unable to travel and accomplish goals for that week. These factors represent the hand of fate that often throws a wrench into the lives of families living in poverty. At the end, participants discussed what they learned both within their respective families and as a whole.

“This experience only gave us a glimpse into the lives of people in poverty,” said first-year medical student Garret Fink. “During the exercise, we were all stressed, confused and rushed. As someone going into health care, we all need to do our part to be empathetic towards their situation. Helping our patients, financially or otherwise, is only a part of what we can do as we also need to focus on their mental health. We can all do better to make this situation better."

A new group of MHA capstone students will hold another Community Action Poverty Simulation during the spring semester. They will also be tasked with creating a new simulation that will ultimately become a permanent addition to the WVU STEPS Center.

Other MHA Fall 2021 Campaigns include: