news-category: Graduate programs

Gardner-Webb College of Health Sciences Students Experience Challenges of Living in Poverty Through Simulated Learning Activity

A student asks for help from a person in the poverty simulation

Event Designed to Help Participants Understand the Ongoing Issues People Face

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—A 21-year-old college student is taking care of her younger siblings: a 2-year-old and 13-year-old twins. Their father is in jail, and the oldest child is trying to keep the bills paid and food on the table. Although this was a role-playing scenario in a Poverty Simulation at Gardner-Webb University, many low-income families are in similar circumstances.

Nearly 90 students in the College of Health Sciences at Gardner-Webb University played these roles for about three hours recently to understand the ongoing challenges faced by people living in poverty. Taking part in the exercise were graduate students in the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Class of 2026 and the Physician Assistant (PA) Program Classes of 2024 and 2025.

Taylor Yaw, a student in the PA Class of 2025, role-played the 21-year-old in the scenario above. She reported that her family did well during the simulation, but it came with a price. “I really had to put a lot more adult stressors onto my 13-year-old sisters that they should not have had to experience,” she noted. “One had to babysit, and I had to send one to the pawn shop. They watched the 2-year-old, and asked the middle school for help. It was interesting to see the huge role they had to take on. I felt the stress the whole time. It was very real.”

The Poverty Simulation exercise was coordinated by Marie Davis, the interprofessional simulation coordinator for the College of Health Sciences. She recruited around 25 volunteers from across campus to help play the parts of teachers, bankers, grocers, pawn shop owners, social service workers and others in charge of community services. “A lot of the students who participated are going to be healthcare providers,” Davis explained. “They only see one aspect of that individual’s life, so this is a great way to open their perspective, and they can see these individuals are also facing many obstacles on the outside. The students really try to figure out these situations. They have fun and learn at the same time.”

Crystal Tucker, a DNP student in the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program, noted that the simulation was a way for her and other healthcare providers to “connect with the reality of others.” She added, “I work with those suffering from mental illness. Some of these barriers that were represented in the simulation, my patients struggle with, so they have an even harder time navigating those spaces. It’s a barrier they have to overcome and be able to connect with resources when they may not have the mental ability or support to do so.”

After the simulation, the students assembled for a time to debrief. Brooke Strickland, a student in the PA Class of 2025, talked about the impact of playing the role of a caseworker for the Department of Social Services. She felt sadness when she had to turn away a client who was ineligible for benefits or food stamps knowing the person couldn’t afford to buy medication and groceries for the grandchildren. She realized the dilemma the person faced and what she might do to help. She shared, “In the debriefing, we talked about making sure you have people in your community that you can reach out to and see what they can provide for your patients if they need extra help outside of healthcare.”

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at

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