May 3, 2020 - Health

Medical students graduate early to join coronavirus front lines

Medicals students working at a medical tent to treat the homeless in Las Vegas.

Touro University Nevada medical students and physician assistants don personal protective equipment to conduct medical screenings in Las Vegas. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Medical schools around the country are fast-tracking soon-to-be graduates so they can join the fight against the coronavirus. 

Why it matters: The move comes amid increasing demand for health care workers as coronavirus hospitalizations peak in various states, and they themselves fall ill. An estimated 10–20% of all U.S. coronavirus cases are health care workers.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised health care facilities to reach out to medical students to relieve staffing shortages that are occurring because of COVID-19.

What's happening:

  • At least five New York schools — Columbia, Weill Cornell Medicine Medical College, New York University's Grossman School of Medicine, the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai — will allow students to graduate early to work in short-term, nonresident roles.
  • Nearly 700 students will graduate early from Massachusetts' four medical schools — the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Tufts School of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, and Harvard Medical School — following a request from Gov. Charlie Baker.
  • 52 fourth-year medical students at the University of Kansas have volunteered to graduate early. They will be assigned to areas of the state with the greatest need and receive special permits to practice from the Kansas Board of Healing Arts.
  • Over 100 students from Oregon Health and Science University graduated early, and several will begin their residencies early as well.
  • Hundreds of students at Michigan State University will be allowed to enter the state's health care systems early after they completed their program requirements, including clinical work.

The big picture: It’s part of a broader push to expand the health care workforce to meet the demands of the pandemic. Retired medical professionals have come back into the industry as part of those efforts.

But, but, but: There are complicating factors, including a nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) that’s putting those already at the front lines at risk.

The American Medical Association has offered recommendations for health systems "to protect learners responding to COVID-19."

  • The AMA recommends that institutions supply the newcomers with proper PPE and training on how to use the equipment, let them choose whether they would like to be involved in direct patient care, and make sure they aren't responsible for testing and treatment if they are sickened while caring for patients.

Go deeper: Young doctors struggle to treat coronavirus patients: "We are horrified and scared"

Go deeper