With Empathy

Sidney Kimmel Medical College students receive Narcan at White Coat Ceremony.
Family members hug at the White Coat Ceremony
Family and friends celebrated with students at Jefferson's White Coat Ceremony.

For the first time, each incoming Sidney Kimmel Medical College student received a Narcan kit to help reverse an opioid overdose.

Vice Provost for Student Affairs Dr. Charles Pohl urged the 270 members of the Class of 2023 to be advocates for those without voices. “With this dose of Narcan, you have the ability to save a life today,” he said during the White Coat Ceremony at the Crystal Tea Room on July 26.

Jefferson’s Dr. Abigail Kay worked closely with the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to facilitate the distribution of the emergency kits. Through this effort, she seeks to change the perceptions of an often-stigmatized group.

“It makes the statement to medical students that we care and every patient counts,” says Dr. Kay, associate dean of undergraduate medical education and academic affairs. “These people deserve to be treated well, and their lives are valuable. Giving the students Narcan will help them to be empathetic and thoughtful to this patient population.”

She hasn’t heard of any other medical school distributing Narcan to its students, but she hopes it will become the standard at similar White Coat Ceremonies around the country.

Roughly 130 people die from an opioid overdose daily in the U.S., estimates the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In addition, over 1,100 people died from drug overdoses in Philadelphia in 2018, and Pennsylvania has the third-highest fatal drug overdose rate in the country.

Specializing in addiction medicine and working in Jefferson’s substance abuse program, Dr. Kay serves on the front lines of this epidemic—the main reason why she pushes back on criticism that Narcan continues the cycle of drug use.

“I can’t treat a dead patient,” she says. “Saving that life with Narcan allows us to get them into treatment and help them to live a fulfilling life.”

Narcan kits on chairs
Each student received a Narcan kit, which can help reverse an opioid overdose.

Moments after putting on her white coat to symbolize the beginning of her medical school journey at Jefferson, Simran Rahi said she felt honored to receive the Narcan kit, which includes two doses of the life-saving nasal spray. “It adds some importance to this event,” she says.

“The responsibility is there on day one,” agrees student Catherine Wickes. “It’s a good wake-up call.”

Throughout the rest of the two-hour ceremony, students recited the professional values of Sidney Kimmel Medical College, the Maimonides Prayer for the Physician and the Hippocratic Oath, as well as heard words of encouragement from fellow students, alumni and faculty.

“You will use all of your education, experiences and skills—sometimes all at once,” says Dr. Bernard Lopez, associate provost for diversity and inclusion, noting students should expect lifelong growth and always be ready to encounter a new condition, injury or twist on a common illness. “Medicine is the most wonderful and hardest job in the world.”

In her keynote address, Dr. Julia Haller, ophthalmologist-in-chief at Wills Eye Hospital, and professor and chair of ophthalmology at Sidney Kimmel Medical College, advised students to be “scrappy and hungry.”

“You will see many miracles, and you will make miracles possible,” she says. “You will have an incalculable privilege of being entrusted by your fellow human beings with their care. Seize every opportunity. Relish the hard moments more than the easy ones because they will forge your steel.”

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