Coronavirus: Medical Schools Hold Early Graduations to Put More Healthcare Professionals to Work

Another shift of medical staff prepare to start woking at a drive-through testing center for COVID-19 in Paramus, N.J., Friday, March 20, 2020. The coronavirus testing center opened Friday in Bergen County which has been the state's hardest-hit area. Gov. Phil Murphy said only those with symptoms should get in …
Seth Wenig/AP Photo

Medical schools in Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey are graduating students early so that they can join the front line fight against the coronavirus.

In Massachusetts, schools responded to the suggestion by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and the state’s Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Judders to move up graduations given the health emergency.

They contacted the deans of Boston University, Harvard University, Tufts University, and the University of Massachusetts with the idea, according to the Boston Herald.

“We’re prepared to provide almost automatic 90-day licenses so we have a cadre of physicians in Massachusetts,” Sudders said at Baker’s daily briefing last week.

The move will mean some 700 seniors will be readied to join the fight against the virus in the state.

“At a challenging time like this, the ability for our medical students to step forward as new young graduates two months early to help out in a pandemic speaks volumes about our profession,” University of Massachusetts Medical School Chancellor Michael Collins told the Herald.

The University of Massachusetts graduates will be working in telehealth and in some medical centers over the next few weeks until their official internships get underway, the Herald reported.

“Many people say the situation here could be more challenging in a week or two weeks, so now we can get prepared should that occur,” Collins said.

Boston University is moving the graduation date up one month, which will allow some of the 192 graduates to work in between graduation and their internships.

“We may need every physician we can get, based on what has happened in Wuhan and Italy, and what is happening in New York,” Karen Antman, School of Medicine dean, wrote in a letter to students. “The number of cases in Boston has not yet peaked. Our case numbers are still going up.”

Graduation is being moved up at Tufts University as well, according to Peter Bates, dean ad interim.

“This important step allows our students to begin putting their medical degrees to use and ease the stress on the health care system,” Bates said in the Herald report.

Harvard said in a statement it is “actively exploring the option of early graduation.”

Inside Higher Ed reported that schools in New York and New Jersey are also following suit:

Medical students in their final year at Columbia University will graduate a month early and will be offered temporary employment at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. New York University also announced last week that it would allow certain medical students to graduate early, pending approval from its regulator and accreditor. And Rutgers New Jersey Medical School announced its final-year medical students would graduate in April instead of May. Rutgers said hospitals will make their own determinations whether students can get an early start to their residencies, which typically start July 1. Rutgers said 62 of its students matched to hospitals in New Jersey, and 58 matched to hospitals in New York, which has more COVID-19 cases than any other state.

The medical school accreditor has issued guidelines for medical schools interested in helping students graduate early. Alison Whelan, the chief medical education officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges, identified a number of considerations for medical students graduating early during a press conference on Friday. Among them, Whelan emphasized that “the M.D. degree gives them the ability to have supervised practice, not independent practice. So creating the appropriate supervision will be necessary. They will also require a special license because they cannot have an independent license, but with the flexibility that many states and Federation of State Medical Boards have been providing in this crisis, that is an issue that will be easily resolved.”

“It’s important to note that these students recently [went] through the match program so they have a contractual obligation to begin residency by June or July, so thinking about what they need to do to transition at the end of this special time of special employment to be ready to meet their contractual requirement to really begin the next step of critical training will be something that both the individuals, their new employers, and their residency programs, will need to consider together,” Whelan said.

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