By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Why are people late to the doctor’s?

Why can’t they pay for prescriptions?

Just having medical coverage doesn’t solve everything.

An exercise designed to enlighten medical students about the challenges of being poor helps to show them why.

What is it like to live in poverty? These second-year medical students are about to find out.

They play various roles in a family of four with a week of tasks.

For example, Pedro, a 3-year-old boy, is just trying to go to daycare. Or an unemployed high school drop out waiting on her boyfriend to pawn some belongings so they can buy transportation passes.

They regroup at the end of each 15-minute “week.” Can they improve their lives?

“We need to buy food,” remarks one student in her small group, as her “high-school athlete son” wails about being hungry.

In the next round, the student role players visit social services, try to get transportation and child care. They visit the pawn shop. They learn the hard way about missing work, missing pick-up at day care and trying to find an easy way out by turning to crime.

They’re thrown a curve with an “event card,” such as an emergency $50 plumbing bill or $200 in funeral costs when there’s not enough money for food and the mortgage.

In the end, they play out a month in a life.

“I want them to ask about finances, so they can refer appropriately. I want them to ask if they’re getting enough food to eat, I want them to ask about their family situation.

“Those are all equally important to health as medical care is and that’s what I want them to ask about,” says Dr. Hollis Day of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

“These obstacles are real,” says one student reflecting on the experience. “It is a perspective that we need to experience.”

It’s certainly far from the real thing, but the organizers of the exercise hope the simulation broadens the students understanding of what their patients go through and the barriers they face when it comes to taking care of their health.