Apotex Inc. Award in Pharmaceutical Sciences 2024: Sarah (Nakyung) Kim

Updated on May 31, 2024 (Originally posted on May 15, 2024) The Tablet

Sarah (Nakyung) Kim
Apotex Inc. Award in Pharmaceutical Sciences
Third-year Pharmacy Student
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, B.C.

There’s health care, and then there’s patient-centred health care. 

Third-year PharmD student Sarah Kim saw the differences firsthand when her grandfather battled with cancer in 2022. He was confused and frustrated throughout his chemotherapy as he didn’t know it would take a such big toll in his life.

While there was no question he was in good hands, the worsening side effects created hesitation in continuing his chemotherapy. He needed empathy, especially after his wife’s passing.

“I remember sitting outside the doctor’s office with my grandpa, holding his hand tightly. He was scared seeing his hair and nails fall off, and his feet swelling up so much that there were no shoes that fit him anymore. He was afraid. Seeing someone I admired become vulnerable and frail deeply touched me. To help comfort him, I clarified that while chemotherapy targets both ‘bad’ and ‘good’ cells, there are medications available to alleviate some of the associated side effects,” Kim said.

“While it’s true that we may not have the luxury of extensive time with each patient, it’s crucial that we engage fully during our interactions. By truly listening and empathizing, we can help our patients feel more at ease and understood.” 

Kim’s guidance not only eased her grandfather’s fears and corrected misconceptions about his treatment, but also solidified her belief in the vital role of pharmacists as readily accessible health care providers. This realization, coupled with understanding of the significance of having a trusted health care provider, confirmed her decision to become a pharmacist.

Sarah Kim

Sarah Kim, a third-year PharmD student at the University of B.C., made substantial changes to the types of mental health supports available for pharmacy students.

Growing up, Kim never thought she would enter pharmacy school. Her heart longed for the fine arts. Not to mention, she personally wasn’t familiar with what a pharmacist actually did behind the counter. That all changed one day, when she needed urgent medical advice for a condition affecting her eye. It was during the start of the COVID pandemic. Doctors offices were closed and her options to seek advice were limited, so she went to a pharmacy.

That’s when she realized how accessible and knowledgeable pharmacists are. At the time, she was attending the University of Toronto, specializing in pharmacology and toxicology. In her final year,  she decided to apply to pharmacy school and was accepted into the University of B.C.’s Entry-to-Practice PharmD program. 

Since entering pharmacy school, one of her focuses has been advocating for mental health. Kim recalled that during her undergraduate years, while studying in Toronto far away from her family and friends in B.C., her own mental health deteriorated.

“At the time I was trying to see a counsellor, but there was this huge waitlist and counselling sessions were very expensive,” she said. 

“When I started my first year of pharmacy school, I saw a posting about a Mental Health Task Force (MHTF) in the faculty. That reminded me of my own experience and I decided to join.”

The taskforce is a collaboration between students and faculty members with the aim of improving students’ mental health. Additionally, she was invited to join the Student Wellbeing Working Group (SWWG), which had similar goal as the MHTF but with its impact at program level. 

Through her involvement in MHTF and SWWG, she was instrumental in implementing several changes: increasing the number of hours students can access the faculty counsellor, removing grade distribution scores that identify what “quartile” of performance a student is in compared to their peers, setting up a pet therapy event for students to hang out with rabbits, reviving a wellness wall with positive messages in the student lounge, and the launch of a mental health resource booth that students can access during a mental health day called Rx for Mind and Body.

“I really felt that having a two-way conversation between the students and the faculty can be a key to fostering a positive learning environment and upgrading our program to the next level,” Kim said. “In receiving this award, I just want to say I’m very grateful to my family, my friends, my mentors, my professors, and everyone I have met throughout my academic journey. Without them, I would not be where I am.” 

This article is featured in The Tablet. The Tablet features pharmacy and industry news, profiles on B.C. pharmacists, information on research developments and new products.