Launch of an Interdisciplinary Poverty Simulation

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Terry Delpier, DNP, RN, CPNP
School of Nursing, Northern Michigan University, Marquette, MI, USA
Karen H. Morin, PhD, RN, ANEF, FAAN
College of Nursing, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI, USA
Karen L. Carlson, PhD, RN
College of Nursing, The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA

Background:  Poverty is a significant issue in the United States.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 2013 poverty rate was 14.5%, with a 19.9% poverty rate for children.  Living in poverty   is associated with significant long-term consequences, especially for children.  Children are more likely to have lower levels of cognitive development with lower levels of educational achievements,   and are also more likely to develop behavior problems and mental health issues that may continue into adulthood (Edin & Kissane, 2010).  For people of all ages, living in poverty has been associated with negative health consequences, which, in turn, can worsen the family’s poverty (Braveman et al., 2011; World Health Organization, WHO, 2008).     

Although causes of poverty are not well understood, most of the causes of poverty are outside of the control of people who are poor.  Additionally, persons living in poverty often experience stigmatization.  Research suggests that when service professionals have negative perceptions of people living in poverty, levels of care provided by those professionals are less adequate (Castillo & Becerra, 2012; Reingold & Liu, 2009; Weaver & Duongtran, 2010).  It is therefore important that everyone, especially students in professional service industries, are educated about the causes of poverty, and that efforts are made to influence attitudes toward the poor positively.  Reutter, Sword, Meagher-Stewart, and Rideout (2004) identified that, in general, students with more positive attitudes toward people living in poverty were likely to believe that poor health within that population was primarily a result of limited access to resources. In contrast, students with more negative attitudes were likely to attribute poor health to poor health choices of individuals living in poverty, thus “blaming” the poor for being poor. 

One way to encourage change in attitudes is through experiential learning followed by reflection.  In the proposed Poverty Simulation (Missouri Association for Community Action, n.d.), students from many disciplines are able to experience the difficulties and challenges faced by “being” poor.  The simulation is conducted with participants being assigned family identities.  The families work to navigate the demands and challenges associated with being poor in 15 minute weeks; this is done by prioritizing challenges and interacting with community resources to resolve those challenges.  The guided reflection at the end of the experience helps students to process the information and their feelings.  This process increases students’ awareness and understanding, potentially leading to changes in attitudes towards the poor.

Purpose:  The purpose of this project was to cultivate new leadership skills in an experienced nurse educator through the process of establishing an interdisciplinary Poverty Simulation program at a medium sized public university in the upper Midwest.

Methods: Over a 12 month period, this scholar engaged in the Experienced Nurse Faculty Leadership Academy (ENFLA) program sponsored by Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI) and Chamberlain College of Nursing Center for Excellence in Nursing Education.  Through workshops, study and reflection and with the generous support of her triad team, Faculty, Karen L. Carlson, PhD, RN and Mentor, Karen H. Morin, PhD, RN, ANEF, FAAN, this scholar has expanded her leadership skills to the university level through the process of launching an interdisciplinary Poverty Simulation Program. This process involved developing support from other disciplines and developing links with community agencies.  

Results:  Due to the time required to mobilize support from an interdisciplinary group and the challenges of securing funding, the Poverty Simulation program will not be completed within the time frame of the ENFLA program, but the work is ongoing.  Using the framework of Kouzes and Posner (2012) and reflecting on the process of change (Quinn, 1996), the scholar has been able to develop strong support for the project from faculty and administrators in four different disciplines: nursing, social work, education and speech, hearing, and language.  Funding from a grant application is currently pending.  The project is designed to provide a meaningful experience to students and community members.  Though not the main focus of the project, there is also a potential to develop an opportunity for interdisciplinary faculty scholarship.  This would be done by securing IRB approval to survey student attitudes toward poverty, before and after the simulation experience.

Conclusions:  Participation in the ENFLA program, with the guidance and support of Faculty and Mentor, has greatly helped expand the scholar’s personal and professional leadership skills, as well as develop confidence in those skills.  These skills have enabled the beginning development of an interdisciplinary Poverty Simulation experience.  But these skills have also enabled the ENFLA scholar to successfully apply for and be chosen to fill the two-year term of the Teaching Learning scholar.  This is a university-wide position to promote faculty development.  Thus, lessons from the ENFLA program will be used to provide leadership for faculty from all disciplines at the university.