Islander Nursing Students Combat Health Care Biases During Poverty Simulation

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – In an effort to equip the next generation of Islander nurses with empathy and understanding of vulnerable populations, the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi hosted a Community Action Poverty Simulation in collaboration with the Homeless Issues Partnership on April 23-24. At the event, students worked to combat unintentional biases toward those who experience poverty and homelessness, ensuring fair and proper care of underserved patients. Ranking 38th nationally, 13.6% of Texans live in poverty, affecting a family’s ability to provide food, shelter, and medical care, which then affects day-to-day experiences.

“Most people in poverty don’t even know they’re in poverty – this is just the life they’re living,” said Eddie Jackson-Mathis, Homeless Issues Partnership representative, said.

During the simulation, nursing students assumed the roles of those facing poverty due to events like job loss, single parent household, homelessness, and being a grandparent raising a grandchild. Their task was then to provide basic necessities during the course of four 15-minute “weeks.” After the activity, students debriefed by sharing experiences, feelings, and lessons learned.

“In this simulation, we’re gaining a perspective we might not understand right now,” said Jonathan Arredondo ’21.” When we are out there treating our patients and they tell us they don’t have direct access to health screenings, or medicines, or transportation – instead of blaming the patients, we will look at this through a systemic perspective which could be influencing why they are unable to keep up with treatment.”

In all, 108 Islander nursing students participated in the simulation and a related research study incorporating the Kiersma-Chen Empathy Scale to measure the change and potential increase in poverty awareness and to inspire community action. In addition, nine students from the university’s theatre department helped illustrate the harsh realities and needs of underserved populations. Theatre major Kenedi Deal ’21 says her role as a police officer in the simulation exposed her hardships many in poverty face when it comes to law enforcement interactions.

“I think it’s really important that we take the time to walk in someone else’s shoes,” Deal said. “This might be a simulation for us, but this is real life for many people in our community. As a community, we have to do more to understand their needs so we can better their lives and provide the right resources.”

The simulation also included representatives employed with area non-profit agencies that provide services to those in need including The Salvation Army, Wesley Community Center, and Driscoll Children’s Hospital. The representatives were able to share real life examples of individuals and families living in poverty and discuss options and alternatives to improve their living situations.

“The biggest thing that I hope these students take away from this is the importance of empathy,” Jesse Long, Salvation Army Core Missions associate, said. “A lot of times when we sit back and look at homelessness or low-income families from a distance, we can look back judgmentally, and we can say that these people are just lazy – but that’s completely not true. These people are people who need help and are struggling, and unfortunately, the system we have right now doesn’t always provide that, so I want them to understand that this is someone’s day-to-day.”

Nursing students who participated in the simulation were assigned to complete their clinical experience at the Wesley Community Center – a nonprofit community center that specializes in helping homeless children and families with housing, education, and medical resources. Nursing students will then be given an empathy scale post-test and will complete a reflective journal.

“I want these students to walk away more aware of the realities that are in our community,” Jackson-Mathis said. “One student came up to me and he said, ‘It’s only been a few days and I lost all my money – I failed. What do I do now?’ I told him; I think you’ve actually got it now. That’s the lesson.”