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A Day in the Life

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In the College of Pharmacy’s Poverty Simulation, students go beyond the classroom for a glimpse of what it means to be truly poor.

Poverty Simulation

They gather early on a winter Saturday, not exactly sure what to expect from the next couple of hours. They’ve signed on for the Poverty Simulation.

Taking on the persona of one of the 45 million Americans who daily face significant financial challenges, or perhaps assuming the role of a staffer at a business or agency that works with indigent communities, the 80 simulation participants are about to get a glimpse of what it means to be truly poor.

The College of Pharmacy hosts the experience, which draws students and faculty not just from pharmacy but also nursing, social work, communication, and pre-med majors. Last year, Target was a sponsor. This year the St. David’s Foundation has provided funding, and additional philanthropic partners are being sought.

The federal poverty level, as calculated in terms of annual income for a family of four, is $24,250. It doesn’t take long for the participants to start appreciating the challenges faced by anyone living below it.

Poverty Simulation“One of the most eye-opening things for me was the intense level of stress I experienced,” says pharmacy student Sara Rumbellow. “Navigating a system I did not fully understand while feeling embarrassed and stressed about not being able to pay bills was very intimidating.”

Students are confronted with the reality faced by some of their future patients and clients: living within a small budget and with little free time as circumstances conspire against them. Collaborating among their assigned family unit, the participants are challenged to secure food, water, shelter, and other basic necessities by interacting with volunteers who represent public schools and work environments, utilities, pawnshops and quick-loan firms, grocery stores, and social service agencies.

“The simulation helps increase our empathy toward those we serve,” says Veronica Young, Pharmacy’s interprofessional education director. “It helps us set aside preconceived notions of what we think it means to live in poverty and better appreciate the stress and daily struggles of those living with disparity.”

“I wish every health care student could participate in a simulation like this in order to expand their world view,” says student organizer Alex Bishop. “It goes beyond what can be taught in a classroom.”

Additional donor support would allow the College of Pharmacy to offer the Poverty Simulation more often than once a year, reaching more students. To contribute, contact Susan Brown, assistant dean for development and alumni relations, by email at or 512-475-9758.


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