UIWSOM students learn more about the very real threats of living in poverty through a simulation.
UIWSOM students learn more about the very real threats of living in poverty through a simulation.

UIWSOM students participate in a Poverty Simulation to gain a deeper understanding of the realities of poverty.

By Katie Hennessey

In a stark moment, she found out her husband left her with only $10 in the bank. Now a single mom, without a job, raising two teenage children, the obstacles ahead seemed substantial.

Feeding her children became the immediate priority, so 34-year-old Doris Duntley goes to Social Services.

“My husband left.”

They ask her personal questions: When did he leave? Why did he leave? When was the last time you were intimate? She puts aside personal feelings because as the sole provider, she has to think about her kids.

Social Services directs Duntley to a Community Action Agency for readily available resources. A trip to the agency is another bus ticket, depleting the limited family funds. But she’ll try everything for her kids.

Duntley fills out paperwork in hopes of keeping her family afloat.

She knows this is not a sustainable solution, so she waits for another day and takes a trip to the Employment Office. There is only one part-time position open and unfortunately, she doesn’t qualify.

Anxiously, she stands in line, waits for an appointment, and just before the work day comes to an end, Duntley applies for food stamps.

Wait two weeks for another position to open up, Duntley is told.

Stressed about being able to provide for her family, Duntley comes home to find an eviction notice on the door. She has been so busy trying to find resources for her family that she hasn’t been able to properly maintain her apartment.

Her only option is to sell everything she owns. She knows this will leave her family homeless, but she’s desperate, and she’ll try everything for her kids.

Simulation to Real Life

An evicted sign on an upturned chair illustrates Duntley’s precarious housing situation.

Doris Duntley is not a real person. But her story is the actual life of someone living in poverty. And for just a day, second-year medical student at University of Incarnate Word School of Osteopathic Medicine(UIWSOM), Anna Dar, experienced the complex circumstances facing someone living in poverty.

Dar joined fellow Osteopathic Medical Students (OMS), local citizens and community workers for a Poverty Simulation hosted by UIWSOM and South Alamo RegionalAlliance for the Homeless (SARAH.) Texas Department of Family and ProtectiveServices (DFPS), sponsored the event on the UIW Medical Campus as a part of Hunger and HomelessAwareness Week, Nov. 10 through 18.

“I felt rather powerless,” Dar said, reflecting on the realistic effect of the simulation. Coming into this event, Dar knew she had an interest in serving marginalized populations but the immersion left her feeling “truly humbled and enlightened,” by the “day-to-day struggles of the impoverished.”

Participants were told to assume the identity, financial situation and family-life of the role assigned to them. Each scenario represented a real family once sitting in the middle class, but a mixture of unforeseen circumstances, choices and bureaucratic systems placed them beneath the poverty line.

In Bexar County, 16.2 percent of the population live in poverty, according to DFPS, higher than the national average of 15.1 percent.

UIW’s School of Osteopathic Medicine at Brooks

The UIWSOM campus is located in District3, an area of Bexar County with subdivisions in the lowest-medium low category of median household incomes, according to the Census Bureau.

Dar’s experience of Duntley’s life, “trying to juggle many responsibilities at the same time,” showed her just how hard it is to “maintain everything, let alone progress.” She described feeling stressed throughout the process.

“Stress kills,” said Tanya Rollins, CPS Disproportionality Manager for the State of Texas, as she facilitated the simulation. The location people live, work, play and learn are social determinants of health, and in District 3, the stress of navigating through poverty can contribute to health issues.

UIWSOM teaches social accountability, facilitating services dedicated to the health concerns of their surrounding community. In 2018, the school developed a Mobile Osteopathic Medicine Clinic (MOM), a free medical clinic serving those affected by the social determinants of health in District 3.

Currently in development is a student organization called Street Medicine San Antonio, a medical outreach program designed to serve people in homeless situations. Medical teams will take to the streets for the first time in January of 2019.

In the meantime, poverty education, like the Poverty Simulation, helps student-doctors understand the complex struggles, external stress factors and barriers in the way of patients living in poverty.