Dealing with welfare patients is not an easy task. These patients are known to be associated with a higher risk of complications and often are difficult to deal with for a multitude of reasons- but do you know what it’s like to walk in their shoes? A recent study investigated the changes in attitudes of health professional students toward people in poverty after playing an online poverty simulation game called “SPENT“.
The results were extremely positive and opened the eyes of many PA who didn’t previously understand the financial and emotional situation many of their impoverished patients were in. All groups of students showed significant change, whether differentiated by gender, presurvey score, or any other factor tested, indicating that improvement in empathy was not limited to any particular group of students examined.
Prior to using SPENT, students had been assigned to complete community-based experiences for 1-3 hours in a medical clinic for multiple years. Despite the student comment that a real-life experience would be better, that was not found to be the case. Several students reported negative experiences: “boring,” “they didn’t really get to see anything,” “a waste of time.” Faculty members consciously made a decision to switch to this experience to allow all students to have an equal experience. External outreach is still strongly encouraged throughout the university. Pharmacy students are encouraged to follow up with faculty members to connect to available opportunities and to volunteer in a student run clinic.
Many students reported being significantly inspired after playing SPENT. This confirms previous findings in other studies that simulating poverty enables students to realize the steriotypical assumptions and the extent of their overestimation of the tole of hard work. The game has recently gone viral on social media.
Here are the final conclusions of the study:
The SPENT game is a low-stakes opportunity, requiring little instructor and student time, to address an important issue with undergraduate students entering service professions. It may be used in any preprofessional or professional phase of a health profession program, including pharmacy. It exposes students to the challenges faced by the working poor and allows them to consider structural vs individual nature of the situation. The authors encourage other faculty members to study the use of the SPENT game in multiple disciplines.
Here is some feedback from the students who participated in this study:
You can play “SPENT” for yourself here