Megan Roblee of Bedford, left, purchases bus tickets on Thursday during a simulated event for Rivier University nursing students that focused on challenges facing low-income families.

NASHUA — About 80 nursing students were forced to live in poverty Thursday as part of a simulation designed to help them understand the complexities facing low-income families throughout the state.

“I do want to reinforce that this is not a game. People do wake up and live in this situation every day,” said Cheryl Bragdon, simulation lab coordinator at Rivier University.

Juniors in Rivier’s bachelor of nursing program were provided with a new identification, age and family background. Some families were living at homeless shelters, while others were grappling with illnesses, paralysis or unemployment. Each family was given different amounts of money to pay for a month’s worth of bills and expenses.

According to Bragdon, the objective is to sensitize students to the day-to-day realities that some of their future patients will face. Bus fare, utility bills, mortgage payments and groceries were all considered throughout the exercise, as well as health care, childcare and more.

“I think this experiment has been really eye-opening,” said Erin Farrington of Manchester, a nursing student at Rivier University. “It reminds you that people may not look like they are struggling, but they are doing everything they can to keep their family afloat.”

Some of the families included grandparents who were raising grandchildren, single parents or young adults caring for underage siblings.

Throughout the simulation, families were urged to utilize various community resources such as a community action agency, a social services office, bank, interfaith organization, pawnshop and more.

For Farrington, her family was making just $1,200 a month. She was tasked with finding transportation to her own job, as well as transportation for her 15-year-old daughter to her place of employment.

“Poverty is not a game for millions of people in the nation,” said Emily Sheff of Rivier’s nursing faculty.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 estimates, the official poverty rate is 12.3 percent in the United States, which means that about 39.7 million Americans live in poverty, or about one in eight people.

While that number is significantly lower in New Hampshire — closer to 7.7 percent in 2017 — Sheff said it is critical that future nurses understand the challenges facing some of their patients and their families. According to U.S. Census data, nearly 100,000 New Hampshire people lived below the federal poverty line in 2017.

This was Rivier’s first community action poverty simulation, and Sheff hopes it will become an annual event for nursing students.

“This is our kick-off to their clinical semester,” she explained. “And even though this is play money being used today, this is real life for many people.”

Luck of the draw cards were also used throughout the event, offering families lottery prize winnings or an unexpected $200 bill for car work.

“These are real-life scenarios,” said Sheff, stressing that most students may not be accustomed to worrying about where their next meal will come from or how they will get to a job interview.

The Community Action Poverty Simulation is a component of a $2 million nursing education grant awarded to Rivier in 2018 by the Health Resources and Services Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Students who took part in the simulation will be working in community health settings throughout the state in the spring semester, and the simulation was designed to prepare them for some of the patient populations they will encounter, a news release states.