Glen had only $2.14 for lunch.
And that wasn’t just his budget for lunch on Monday but for about every meal. After all his expenses on a fixed income, Glen, a fictional character based on a real patient, could only afford canned tuna, black beans and pita bread.
A group of students, pursuing a variety of disciplines in the medical field, were tasked Monday with buying, making and eating their lunch on those financial constraints as part of the University of Oklahoma-University of Tulsa School of Community Medicine Summer Institute program.
“The Summer Institute experience is designed as an inter-professional learning activity that exposes future health care students and public health students ... to really what social determinants of health are in the context of Tulsa,” said Dr. Marianna Wetherill, assistant professor at OU Health Sciences Center.
The students were assigned budget and dietary guidelines for fictional patients who had their stories rooted in real patients and were sent to a store to buy what they could eat without a kitchen in which to cook.
Glen lived alone in a dingy apartment on the east side of Tulsa. He copes with bipolar disorder and HIV. After rent, utilities and other expenses, Glen is left with about $2.14 per meal. Wetherill said the average cost per balanced meal in Tulsa is about $3.
Wetherill’s group had $10.71, or about $2.14 per person. They purchased canned black beans, canned tuna, mayonnaise, pita bread and one orange. They ate what they bought “to better empathize with the people we work with,” Wetherill said.
Savannah Payne, one of the students, said the group may have had an advantage over Glen. They were primed to the case and knew to aim for nutrition, but little was provided about Glen’s existing diet. His case file included that he was 55 years old, lived a sedentary lifestyle and required about 2,200 calories per day.
They were one cent over budget and about 100 calories under target for one meal.
“I guess he wouldn’t really have a choice,” Payne said. “It’s relatively healthy. It’s not unhealthy.”
Amanda Burch, another student in Wetherill’s group, said they could have hit the calorie goal with soda, frozen pizza and chips, but they would have missed nutritional goals by a wide margin.
More than 100 students from various disciplines in the health field are participating in the institute. It started Sunday and runs through Wednesday with different scenarios for patients with adverse childhood experiences, environmental influences on health, poverty simulations and food insecurity.
For the food insecurity case, the amount of money different groups had to spend and where they could spend it varied. Students had to calculate the patients’ weekly food budget, caloric and nutritional needs. From there, they set out to grocery stores, restaurants and convenience stores. Each case was based on answers from patients.
Pete Aran, chief medical officer for OU Physicians-Tulsa, said traditional education would “silo” the different disciplines, such as pharmacists, nursing, surgeons and doctors.
“What we are trying to do is change medical education so that young people ... younger than me at least, learn the importance of inter-professional, team-based care,” he said.
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