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Poverty Simulation: Imagine Having to Choose Between Paying Rent and Putting Food on the Table

Poverty Simulation
By Lily Collins -

On Tuesday, October 11, the VCOM-Carolinas Class of 2026 students participated in an in-person, on-campus Poverty Simulation within the Preventive Medicine course. United Way of the Piedmont provides this fast-paced, interactive exercise for first-year students as a way to role-play and engage in decision-making that persons living in poverty may have to navigate. It is a very powerful experience.

In this activity, each student was assigned to a family unit and given a specific storyline. Using resources set up around the room/building, the family units attempted to perform daily tasks while living in poverty and encountering unforeseen circumstances.

The realities and complexities represented in the Poverty Simulation are real-world struggles for many, such as food insecurity, housing instability, homelessness, lack of reliable and affordable transportation, domestic violence, and the inability to afford basic necessities due to unemployment and underemployment.

Within the simulation, VCOM-Carolinas faculty and staff volunteered to play the roles of the community services, such as teacher, banker, doctor, police officer, etc. United Way of the Piedmont provided three staff members to set up, facilitate and discuss the experience.

Following the exercise, participants debriefed to process their experiences, learning more about the obstacles faced by people living in poverty and gaining a greater understanding of the important role United Way plays within the community.

Such an experience is valuable to medical students who may eventually serve as physicians in poor, rural and medically underserved regions. As one United Way of the Piedmont facilitator pointed out, it can be hard or even impossible to prioritize preventative healthcare with so many other enormous challenges to just getting by.

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