Health Disparities Simulation – WVU STEPS Center

The Challenge

Around the United States, there are people who do not experience or have access to the healthcare system in the same ways others do. The COVID-19 pandemic brought light to these health equity challenges experienced by marginalized populations in the United States. 

Our mission was to help WVU health science students better understand the health disparities and inequities experienced by marginalized populations in order to improve the future of patient care. In partnership with our clients across WVU Health Sciences including the WVU School of Public Health, the School of Pharmacy, the HSC Office of Interprofessional Education and the STEPS Center, we set out to create a simulation that provided students with the opportunity to step into the shoes of a marginalized person living with a health disparity or inequity. 

Research Insight 

The Impact of Health Disparities and Inequities

Research has shown that marginalized people experience health disparities and inequities at higher rates than other groups within the United States. These disparities can be exacerbated through interactions with healthcare professionals including doctors, pharmacists, counselors, specialists and even office receptionists due to a lack of awareness and understanding. 

In order to begin best addressing how these disparities and inequities can be improved through education and future patient care, we learned through further research that immersive and emotional experiences such as simulations foster the best environment for impact. 

Target Audience 

As part of the partnership with our clients across WVU Health Sciences, it was decided that targeting health science students at WVU would be the best way to reach future healthcare professionals. Health science students across all majors were targeted to be participants and volunteers within the simulation. 

The Message 

Improving the future of healthcare through life-changing experience (place this in italics in large text before the text underneath) 

We understood that while we couldn’t change healthcare practices and interactions immediately, we could provide students and future health professionals with a life-changing experience that has the opportunity to positively impact future patient care. The governing brand idea: Improving the future of healthcare through life-changing experience, provided a basis for messaging surrounding the project. 


Stepping Into the Shoes 

In order to provide an accurate and immersive experience, we created personas of people and families from marginalized populations within the United States living with health inequities and disparities. We spoke with experts across different fields to ensure each persona was crafted with careful consideration and accuracy. These personas were the lives that participants of the simulation would step into over the course of the two-hour experience. 

Creating Interactions 

In order to provide participants of the simulation with a deeper understanding of how interactions with different facets of the healthcare system can exacerbate these disparities and inequities, we created “stations” within the simulation that acted as doctor offices, speciality clinics, pharmacies, employers, schools, daycares and grocers. Throughout the simulation experience, participants would have to interact with these different stations in order to receive necessary care and successfully complete a week (represented by 15 minutes) in the life of the persona they have taken on. 


Along with gaining an increased awareness and understanding of how health disparities and inequities impact marginalized populations in the United States, we wanted participants of the simulations to have something to take with them as part of their experience. A certification for all participants was created and signed by Gina Baugh, director of the WVU Office of Interprofessional Education. 

Health Disparities Simulation Pilot 

After several weeks of preparation, run-throughs and recruitment of volunteers and participants, we launched the pilot of the Health Disparities Simulation on April 20, 2022! 

Upon entering the simulation, participants were assigned their new identities and completed four weeks in the life of their persona (four 15 minute weeks). In order to successfully complete each week, participants had to ensure their family had adequate food, went to work or school and addressed any health issues they may have. Each participant also received a “Luck of the Draw” card at some point during their simulation experience that delivered good or bad news such as car repairs or monetary gifts. 

Success and Results 

The Power of Discussion 

After the simulation, participants and volunteers were guided through a discussion by a simulation facilitator in order to express their experience and what they learned from the simulation. This time provided a safe space for everyone to discuss the implications of health disparities and inequities on marginalized people in the United States and what can be done by health professionals-in-training to positively impact future patient care. 

“It was an absolute pleasure to work the MHA.  The team members were professional, knowledgeable, and accountable through the project development and implementation.  I was very impressed with their abilities, and their skill set was a complement to the Health Sciences Center focus of healthcare delivery.”

-Gina Baugh, Pharm.D. Director, Interprofessional Education, WVU Health Sciences Center

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