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Hopkins Nursing Student Gets a Closer Look at Poverty

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Posted: 5/24/2010

Nursing student Lucas Fussell recently got an up-close look at what its like to live in poverty, dashing from agency to agency in search of assistance, dealing with the burglary of his home, and managing financial difficulties, all while he and his partner tried to take care of their three children.

"It was stressful," said Fussell, an accelerated baccalaureate student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing (JHUSON). "I began to experience anxiety, tension, and fear."

Fussell was one of several students from the schools of Nursing, Medicine, and Public Health who took part in a Poverty Simulation exercise on April 23. The event, sponsored by Johns Hopkins University's Student Outreach Resource Center (SOURCE) as part of National Community Service Week, gave students insight into what its like to be a low-income resident in Baltimore, and specifically into poverty's impact on mental health.

Students were grouped into "families" and told to navigate the challenges of a simulated city during the course of four 15-minute "weeks." Fussell played the role of Charles Chen, a married father of three who had recently lost his job as a computer engineer.

After the exercise, Fussell recounted his experiences in a first-person essay entitled "Understanding the Impoverished: How role-play helped me become a more compassionate nurse."

"I reflected on the stress response I was having to the simulation...," Fussell wrote. "It was at this point that I knew that the simulation had accomplished its mission of making the participants -- particularly future healthcare professionals -- aware of the hazards of poverty and stress."

He added that the simulation forced him to reflect on the important roles healthcare professionals can play in the lives of their patients.

"We are not here just to heal and educate," he wrote, "but also to empower those who seek our help."