New York medical students' graduations fast-tracked so they can head to the front line in coronavirus war

Governor Andrew Cuomo will sign an executive order to allow medical students who were slated to graduate this spring to begin practicing now

                            New York medical students' graduations fast-tracked so they can head to the front line in coronavirus war
(Getty Images)

New York medical students, who are slated to graduate in spring, will start practicing immediately to help with the state's COVID-19 crisis and treat an ever-growing number of patients infected with the virus. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he will sign an executive order to facilitate the same. 

"I will be signing an Executive Order to allow medical students who were slated to graduate this spring to begin practicing now. These are extraordinary times and New York needs the help," tweeted Cuomo. He added, "We need doctors, we need nurses, so we're going to expedite that."

The COVID-19 pandemic is putting an enormous strain on the healthcare system. Over 337,600 cases have been reported from across the US and more than 9,640 have died. New York — the epicenter of the pandemic in the US — has reported 122,031 cases and 4,159 deaths, Cuomo said during a briefing. He said that the number of deaths over the past few days has been dropping for the first time, but added that it is too early to understand the significance of that. There were 594 deaths on April 4 and 630 on April 3.

As of April 4, 85,000 health professionals, including 22,000 out-of-state individuals, have signed up to volunteer as part of the state's healthcare force during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

An emergency medical technician transports a patient to Elmhurst Hospital Center emergency room in the Queens borough of New York (AP Photo)

Most US medical school education lasts four years, after which the medical degree is granted. This is followed by residencies and internships. 

On March 25, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), American Medical Association, issued "guiding principles for early graduation of final-year medical students in the context of the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic". 

"Based on the current situation, the LCME recommends that medical schools follow these guidelines, which are consistent with LCME standards, in determining which of its final-year students are eligible for early graduation," read the statement.

The committee said that medical schools should review its educational program objectives, the learning objectives of its required courses and clerkships and required clinical experiences and skills. "If students have met these requirements and been assessed on these required learning objectives, they may be eligible for early graduation. The school should confirm the eligibility of each student with its student advancement and promotion committee," the committee said.

The guidance said that since electives, by definition, do not have required learning objectives, medical institutions can choose to waive graduation requirements based upon a requisite number of elective weeks. This, however, can be done after it is reviewed and approved by its curriculum committee and student advancement and promotion committee.
Some medical schools in the US have already announced their intention to offer early graduation to their fourth-year students. A statement from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) said that a cohort of students from five New York medical schools — Columbia, Weill Cornell Medicine Medical College, New York University (NYC) 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 graduate early.

"These young doctors will be deployed in short-term, non-resident roles in New York hospitals before they depart for their PGY-1 residencies in June. Those who are staying in New York for residency will transition from the special service to their specialty residencies at the designated time," it said.

The Grossman School of Medicine at New York University (NYU), for example, has offered early graduation to the class of 2020, allowing them to start working as doctors immediately. 

In an email, the medical school informed its students of the decision. "The medical school and the university have agreed to permit early graduation for students who agree to begin working as an intern now. This is consistent with a national discussion regarding the early graduation of eligible medical students so that they can join the healthcare workforce prior to the typical July 1 starting date," said the email.

"We are filled with admiration and gratitude for our early graduating medical students. Thank you for your courage and compassion during these unprecedented times," tweeted the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.

Construction workers are seen at the site of a makeshift morgue being built in New York (AP Photo)

The Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) also issued a statement stating that all four Massachusetts medical schools have agreed to graduate their 2020 class in April. This includes the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School.

This came after Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders asked the deans of the four Massachusetts medical schools to advance graduation of its fourth-year medical students to a date in April "to more rapidly expand the capacity of the medical workforce in the Commonwealth in response to the critical needs of our citizens during this pandemic".

The move will potentially free up as many as 700 to enter the workforce. The Massachusetts students will receive a 90-day provisional license to work in a COVID-19 service capacity. The BUSM student evaluation and promotions committee will review each student's status and determine that students have completed all of their requirements for graduation by April 10. A virtual graduation date has been set as of now on April 17. 

"Graduates will be able to choose whether to apply for a Massachusetts license or to move to the location of their residencies. The Commonwealth is creating a special, expedited licensure process," says the statement.

"Your class is clearly graduating at one of the most medically challenging times of the last century, and will shortly be an important part of our country’s response to the COVID-19 challenge. We are proud of the physicians that you will soon be, and for the role that you will play in the care of your patients," it says.

At Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, interim dean Dr Aron Sousa said that 150 of his 200 fourth-year students are eligible for early graduation, with 61 of those staying in Michigan for residency, according to AAMC.

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