Professor Patricia Brown O’Hara, RN,
PhD runs through the simulation at the
start of the event.
Nursing, Social Work
Students Participate in
By: Deb O'Reilly
“That was humbling,”
said a nursing student after participating
in one of two poverty simulations held on
GMercyU’s campus in December 2019.
Nursing students read the profiles of
the citizens who they will portray.
Students line up for services during
The Frances M. Maguire School of
Nursing and Health Professions hosted
two poverty simulations as part of an
annual mission-focused effort. One of
the Critical Concerns of the Sisters of
Mercy is to advocate for the poverty
stricken; these simulations help
students understand how to better care
for some of society’s most vulnerable
populations. Seniors in GMercyU’s
“Health and Illness in the Community”
course participated, as well as a group
of GMercyU Social Work students.
These experiential learning events were
designed to offer students a glimpse of
what life is like for their future patients
and clients living at the poverty level –
something that’s difficult to understand
if you haven’t lived it.
“Chances are you will likely interact with
people who you don’t even realize are
poverty stricken,” said Heather Moulton
of the Mattie N. Dixon Community
Cupboard, one of the guest speakers.
The simulations were co-run by
Professors Teresa Lewis, RN, DNP and
Patricia Brown O’Hara, RN, PhD, and
staffed with a team of faculty volunteers.
A stop to visit Social Services.
Each simulation was organized in four,
15-minute time periods, with each
15-minute period representing one
week, for a total of one month in the life
of a low-income community member.
Each student was assigned a profile of a
community member – the profiles shared
where they lived (some were homeless),
marital status, if they had children, if
and where they worked, and their income
Students were also given specific goals:
to keep their homes secure, go to work,
Waiting to inquire about employment.
buy the required amount of food each
week, keep their utilities on, make
their loan payments, pay for clothing
and miscellaneous expenses, respond
appropriately to unexpected factors in
life, and keep school-aged children in
With their goals in mind, students
navigated GMercyU’s Rotelle Lounge
“neighborhood,” visiting a simulated
supermarket, social services center, a
daycare, the bank, a healthcare center, a
pawn shop, and juvenile hall. They began
to learn what it means to have your
utilities shut off or get evicted because
you can’t pay your bills or rent, how to
feed a family on minimum wage, and
how to juggle parenting your kids when
you’re working multiple jobs.
“What could be harder than this?” said
Social Work Program Director Wade
Luquet, PhD, of the challenges that
people at or below the poverty line face
One of the simulation’s faculty
volunteers, Dr. Luquet played the role of
a thief who wandered the room during
the event and occasionally seized what
little money students had, to illustrate
the stressful safety issues some deal with
on top of financial hardships.
Afterward, students and faculty
volunteers gathered to share their
eye-opening experiences. “I had
anxiety,” said one student who had
difficulty covering her expenses. “It
was frustrating,” said another of the
challenge of having a co-parent in jail.
What they took away is a better sense of
the obstacles our vulnerable populations
face on a daily basis.
“Our intention is to provide our students
an opportunity to be better and more
understanding advocates for their future
clients,” said Professor Lewis.