The battle to treat an ever-growing number of patients infected with the new coronaviruses just got its new recruit: soon-to-be medical graduate. Several medical schools in Massachusetts and New York announced this week that they intend to offer early graduation to fourth-year students, fast-tracking them to front-line hospital care as the need for medical workers rises.
On Tuesday, the Grossman School of Medicine at New York University became the first in the United States to announce an early graduation offer, in an email to students. Following similar movements earlier this year in Italy and Great Britain, many advanced medical students in recent years in clinical intermediate services.
Today, medical schools at Tufts University, Boston University and the University of Massachusetts announced they are planning to move up from their graduation date in April from May, following a request from the state of Massachusetts to help expand the medical workforce. Harvard Medical School says it was “actively considering” the same step.
In Massachusetts, the state would grant 90 days of provisional licensure for early graduates, allowing nearly automatic entry into clinical work. The move would make about 700 medical students in Massachusetts eligible to provide patient care at least eight weeks earlier than expected.
Dr. Steven Abramson, Vice Dean of Education, Faculty and Academic Affairs at NYU Grossman, said the school’s decision came as its hospitals were overwhelmed with an increasing number of COVID-19 patients, including critical care. He said several fourth-graders approached school administrators to volunteer.
“We’re running into the manpower problem,” Abramson says. “This led us to the conclusion: Why not graduate students interested in serving in hospitals now? They have met the requirements and are preparing. “
Most American medical schools last four years, at which point the medical degree is granted, followed by residency and internship to develop the specialties of new physicians.
At NYU, Abramson said, fourth-year students would be able to graduate early in April and begin patient care at NYU’s hospitals, medicine floors and the emergency room. They would then leave at the end of June or July to begin scheduled residency programs, with a two-week quarantine in between. Of the 120 fourth-graders surveyed this week, he said 69 responded that they might be interested in early clinical services.
While the Medical Education Liaison Committee, or LCME, which accredits medical degree programs in the United States, has offered early graduate guidelines, the NYU decision awaits final approval from the New York State Department of Education.
A number of New York medical schools are still developing proposals for early graduation. Dr. David Muller, dean of medical education at Icahn School of Medicine in Mount Sinai, said the school hoped to have a proposal ready to share with students by early next week. The early graduation would most likely occur in mid-April, he added, and would be voluntary, although details needed to be worked out. The Vagelos College University College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine are also working towards early graduation.
Medical students across the country spent the last week mobilizing to support local doctors. They have personal coronavirus hotlines, coordinate meal delivery and even offer their time as baby seekers to other medical workers. Many said they were excited to contribute to their medical training.
Greg Peters, a fourth-year student at Harvard who is planning to start an emergency residency, “is seeing all the doctors around us and we are excited that we can bring some relief to the doctors who trained and encouraged us.” ” care in Boston.
He added, though, that the prospect of early graduation and fast-tracked services came as a surprise. “My classmates and I are Type One who plan everything out, and our plans come out the window,” he said. “We’re confident in our training, but we’re a little concerned about getting thrown in there.”
The Association of American Medical Colleges, a research and advocacy group for medical schools and large teaching hospitals, said it supports graduation early following LCME guidelines, but emphasizes the importance of supervision for new graduate students.
“As we think about what the role of these new graduates would be, it would need to be under supervision,” said Alison Whelan, the association’s chief medical education officer.
Abramson said he expects more medical schools across the country to move to early graduation.
“We are not the only school in need of caring for patients in this COVID environment,” he said. “I fully anticipate other schools will look into this and do it as well.”