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WVU Schools of Public Health and Pharmacy, the HSC Office of Interprofessional Education, and the STEPS Center

WV PRSA Crystal Award Winner- Event (7 Days or Less), Research Tactics

Our Challenge

Everyday, healthcare providers treat patients who are living in poverty and are trying desperately to receive sufficient care. Understanding the challenges and barriers faced by often marginalized populations is not something you can learn in a textbook, though. Our mission was to help WVU health science students understand disadvantaged populations and prepare them to be the change these patients need.

Our clients from across WVU Health Sciences tasked us with promoting a Community Action Poverty Simulation for their students. The challenge we then faced was this: convince busy health science students to attend a poverty simulation. We needed to convey to them the importance of understanding how poverty affects their patients.


Understanding Patients Facing Poverty

Imagine having just written a prescription for a patient, and the first question you receive is if the pills can be cut in half. You don’t understand. Why does that matter? What you don’t know is that your patient cuts the pills to stretch the prescription as long as possible. They can’t afford refills at the normal rate; this is the only way they can receive the medication they need.

Before we could think about how we were going to message this sentiment, we had to find exactly who we were messaging to.

The Target Audience

Through primary research focus groups, we discovered two target audiences: socially motivated and academically motivated students. Socially motivated students were cause-driven and willing to spend their time supporting organizations or ideals that combated inequities in the medical field. Academically motivated students preferred to spend their time and mental energy only if it provided direct benefits to their grades or careers. Now that we had our target audience, we needed to find the right messaging to reach them.


An Important Message

“An experience that fosters personal, professional, and social understanding.”

— Governing brand idea

We realized that messaging for the simulation needed to address how it could help students be the best health care providers possible, while also making them competitive in their respective fields. The idea we settled upon to govern our messaging for the simulation was: An experience that fosters personal, professional, and social understanding. The next step was finding a way for the students to show off the understanding they would receive through the simulation.


Getting Certified

We wanted to provide a tangible benefit to complement the sense of understanding attendees would gain. A certificate! Everyone that participated in the simulation would be eligible for a certificate of completion signed by Gina Baugh, director of the WVU Office of Interprofessional Education. We were now ready to launch our messaging campaign.


Print and Digital Promotion

For our messaging campaign, we designed both physical and digital designs to be used to reach our target audience. We created a 24” x 26” foam poster and two different 8.5” x 11” paper flyers for tabling at Pylons Commons, as well as two social media posts for digital marketing.


Community Action Poverty Simulation

We launched our messaging, opened the sign-up for the simulation, and watched the names roll in!

Participants were assigned new identities and families, and then had to complete goals such as reporting to employers, ensuring their child attended school, paying utilities, and securing food. Simulation facilitators would randomly hand “luck of the draw” cards to families that brought either good or bad fortune. These factors represent the hand of fate that often throws a wrench into the lives of families living in poverty. By comparing the pre and post surveys the attendees took, as well as listening in to the post-simulation discussion, we could see that the health science students now had a better understanding of how poverty affects their patients.


Let’s Discuss

Through a post-discussion, it was clear that the poverty simulation had a drastic impact on the health science students. Our team heard from many health science students and faculty about how this experience affected them, and that they needed more simulations in the future. One medical student even emailed our team saying that the simulation was exactly the type of thoughtful education they wanted most in their medical career, and that this certification was invaluable to individuals in the healthcare field.


“It showed me just how hard it is to live off of and do what is necessary with the income and life situations. My experience has really shifted. I feel like I already had some idea, but I never imagined how frustrating it would be even in just a simulation.”

– Medical Student

“It is very stressful living paycheck to paycheck and not being able to do much about our situation.”

– Pharmacy Student

“Poverty is a very oppressive cycle that takes an incredible amount of resilience and persistence to maybe one day come out of—the stigma around it needs to be changed.”

– Public Health Student
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