‘I didn’t have it in my bag before’: Incoming Penn students say carrying Narcan is shaping their outlook on medicine

Penn Medicine welcomed a new class of 157 first-year medical students with a hands-on orientation on how to administer naloxone – a life-saving medication used to help reverse an opioid overdose.

On Monday afternoon, in what the school called a “naloxone boot camp,” the training included keynote speakers from faculty at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania specializing in anesthesiology, palliative care, and addiction medicine. It’s the third time that the school has given the training.

Dr. Bridget Durkin, an addiction medicine and palliative care doctor (left), Patrick Dooley, a person in recovery (center left), Jasmine Barnes, a substance use disorder navigator (center right), and Dr. Bonnie Milas, an anesthesiologist and critical care doctor, spoke to students about substance abuse disorder on their first day of University of Pennsylvania medical school. August 7, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The orientation concluded with students paired off into groups, where they practiced dispensing naloxone – otherwise known as “Narcan” – nasal spray on mannequins with the school’s clinical and addictions research team.

Before leaving, each medical student was given a box containing two doses of Narcan, which they were encouraged to keep with them at all times.

Helen Molteni participated in a naloxone boot camp and received two doses of Narcan on the first day of medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Carrying the medication was a brand-new experience for most students at the orientation. For some, like first-year student Helen Molteni from Washington D.C., it was an opportunity to learn about just how prevalent the opioid crisis is.

“I had a relatively limited perspective. I knew in abstract terms that this was something that the nation was struggling with,” she said. “But it’s never been something in my immediate circle or my immediate environment.”

Molteni studied at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio for pre-medicine. She’s interested in craniofacial research and would like to pursue pediatric medicine. She said getting more information about Narcan and the opioid crisis has been “eye-opening.”

“I really like learning about the different community outreach initiatives and having the opportunity to, even my first few months in Philly, get to connect with the community and further that education,” she said.

Similarly, Rebecca Dracham had never carried Narcan nasal spray on her before. Dracham is from Seattle, Washington, where she previously studied psychology and neuroscience for her undergraduate degree. She said she feels “a little bit more empowered” walking around with it in case of an emergency.

Dracham had never visited Philadelphia before touring Penn’s campus when she applied for med school. Her hands-on experience with administering Narcan has taught her that the opioid crisis has “lacked a lot of attention within the general population and also the medical community.”

“And there’s a lot of stigma around the crisis as well,” she said. “I think it’s a particularly difficult challenge to address, but one that I think is really crucial to address and with really novel strategies and practices.”

Claire West (left) and Rebecca Dracham (right) University of Pennsylvania medical students said they were glad to have Narcan in their bags after the naloxone boot camp on August 7, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

During the orientation, Dracham befriended Claire West, another first-year student and fellow Seattle native. West is more familiar with the East Coast. A graduate of Brandeis University outside of Boston, West studied International and Global Studies for her undergrad degree, and has an interest in community medicine and public health.

“The opioid crisis is everywhere, especially in Seattle recently,” she said. “A lot of things brought me to the field of medicine. But I think at the core of it, I just really value human connection and getting to hear people’s stories – I feel like I learn a lot about people in the world, but also a lot about myself. I think that’s a pretty unique thing to experience in this career.”

  • August 8, 2023
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