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Medical Students Are Graduating Early to Help With Coronavirus

Medical students across the United States are graduating early to join the fight against the coronavirus. On March 26, NYU’s Grossman School Of Medicine allowed senior students to graduate early in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases, responding to New York City governor Andrew Cuomo’s call to get more physicians to into the healthcare system, according to CNN. New York University isn’t the only school encouraging fourth-year residents to join the medical workforce - in Boston, Tufts University, Boston University, and University of Massachusetts moved graduation dates to April from May. Harvard Medical School also gave students the option to receive medical diplomas early, so they can be deployed quickly to hospitals struggling to handle the influx of COVID-19 patients. 

The coronavirus outbreak is presenting hospitals and healthcare facilities with an unrivaled challenge, especially amid hazardous equipment shortages and workers on the frontlines susceptible to the disease. Many hospital managers and healthcare workers are concerned about the pandemic’s potential to overwhelm the healthcare system, contributing to unnecessary deaths. European countries, such as Italy and Spain, have witnessed the kind of systemic failures that lead to staffing shortages. Major cities in the United States are attempting to plan for ongoing surges in cases, working around the clock to try and get doctors and nurses the PPE necessary and building the kind of healthcare workforce necessary to address a pandemic of this magnitude. 

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Offering early diplomas to senior medical students might be an unprecedented step, but it’s the kind of proactive decision that administrators should be making to mitigate the coronavirus crisis. The pandemic poses a difficult dilemma for hospitals  - as populations are facing surges in cases, healthcare workers are more likely to fall ill and take time off to recover in self-quarantine, potentially leaving intensive care and emergency units short-handed when it matters most. Early graduations are one strategy for preventing staff shortages at hard-hit hospitals, and colleges and universities are likely to continue to embrace the practice across the country. 

How Medical Schools Can Deploy Students to Hospitals

In the United States, the typical trajectory for a medical school student is four years of graduate school, at which point a medical degree is granted, and then a series of residencies and internships in a specific field of interest. Many states are allowing medical schools to break with tradition, granting fourth-year students the ability to graduate early and begin working on medical floors or in emergency rooms. Students are expected to end their emergency service in June and July, quarantine for two-weeks, and then move on to their predetermined residency or internship. 

In Massachusetts, a hub for medical education, the state provided 90-day provisional medical licenses for early graduates, allowing for automatic entry into clinical work, according to the NewsWeek. By doing so, over 700 medical students in Massachusetts were made eligible for patient care at least 8 weeks earlier than anticipated, allowing for the state to preemptively bolster healthcare infrastructure. 

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New York City, an epicenter of the pandemic in the United States, has also had several major medical institutions grant early degrees to fourth-year medical students. Steven B. Abramson, an executive vice dean at NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine, said that the university asked 122 students if they would be willing to start their internships at New York Hospitals in April, according to CNN. “We’re running into issues of manpower,” Abramson said. “That led us to conclude: Why not graduate students who are interested in serving in hospitals now? They’ve completed their requirements and they’re prepared.” Within a few days of posting the request, nearly 70 fourth year medical students had signed up. 


Gabrielle Mayer, a fourth-year medical student who planned to join the primary care/internal medicine program at NYU’s Bellevue Hospital, called her choice to contribute to coronavirus response an “easy decision.” “Knowing that we are waiting to graduate and join the workforce, that we have the skill set that seems needed and valuable right now, it was such an easy decision to join my co-residents, co-interns,” Mayer said. NYU will receive approval from the New York Department of Education, the Middle States Commission on Education, and the Liaison Committee on Medical Education before placing graduating medical students into the workforce.  

Medical schools encouraging students to graduate early and work on the frontlines of the coronavirus have a responsibility to manage safety as best as possible for these individuals. That means implementing a comprehensive communication plan, aiding students in the transition from medical school to the frontlines of the pandemic as seamlessly as possible, and provide a resource should an emergency arise. 

Protecting Healthcare Workers Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic 

Communication is a major tenet of implementing a healthcare-student workforce in hospitals in impacted cities. Medical school leaders can leverage a mass notification system and safety app to manage this transition for students and hospitals. Administrators can use the app to communicate with students about to graduate, including information about hospitals seeking workers and licensing protocol. If colleges or universities can inform medical students of the considerable precautions that will be taken to ensure as much safety as possible for workers, as well as successful integration into the hospital or healthcare facility workforce, fourth-year students are more likely to feel comfortable moving up their graduation date and joining the fight against coronavirus. 

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The app allows administrators to manage and communicate with students about coronavirus updates, including closures or updates to class schedules, and the early graduation option would be relevant notification. The app also contains a portal for customizable content, allowing administrators to share time, appropriate and accurate information about hospital needs as the coronavirus pandemic develops. Similarly, a call directory allows administrators to share a resource of critical numbers, such as a Benefits office, other physicians, or a coronavirus hotline, ensuring no worker is confused about best practices amid the crisis.

Coronavirus Response Kit Higher Ed

Mary Kate McGrath
Mary Kate McGrath

Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.

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