As the COVID-19 pandemic overwhelms health care systems in New York and other hard-hit states around the country, some medical schools are offering a months-early graduation to students who can help to staff strained hospitals.
On Wednesday night, the organization that accredits MD programs in the United States published guiding principles for early graduations “in the context of the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic.”
The early graduations come as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has scrubbed the state looking for additional medical professionals to staff hospitals, including retired doctors and nurses, graduates of foreign medical schools and military medical professionals.
“They can work in an insurance company, a clinic, or whatever, but we want to enlist as many staff as we can, and as many back-up staff,” Cuomo said at a news conference Tuesday.
A spokesperson for the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City told TPM Thursday that the school was reviewing a “tentative plan” to allow for early graduations.
“We have most of the pieces worked out already, there will be an opportunity to graduate early from medical school,” Dr. David Muller, Sinai’s dean for medical education, told students in a video town hall Wednesday. Brief19, a COVID-19 information source run by several doctors, published a clip of the town hall Thursday.
“The tentative date that we’ve set right now is April 14,” Muller said.
And earlier this week New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine offered eligible students an early graduation if they agreed to pitch in to the COVID-19 fight.
Early NYU medical graduates would have to volunteer to work as an MD in the school’s internal or emergency medicine departments, according to an email to students first published by Brief19.
“In response to the growing spread of COVID-19, and in response to Governor Cuomo’s directive to get more physicians into the health system more quickly, NYU Grossman School of Medicine and NYU have agreed to permit early graduation for its medical students” pending approval from accreditation bodies, an NYU spokesperson told TPM Wednesday.
“This is consistent with a national discussion regarding the early graduation of eligible medical students so they can join the healthcare workforce prior to the typical July 1 starting date,” a subsequent news release from the medical school read.
“With the growing spread of COVID-19 in New York City, NYU Langone hospitals are being inundated with sick patients, and the doctors, nurses and medical personnel on the front lines have been working extra-long hours, and burnout is a major concern.”
The Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the official medical school accrediting body in the U.S. and Canada, gave a brief stamp of approval to early graduations in a letter Wednesday night.
“In the context of the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic, medical schools may be considering an option for eligible final-year medical students to graduate early,” the letter reads.
Students who’ve met a given medical school’s educational and clinical requirements “may be eligible for early graduation,” LCME said.
A spokesperson for the Association of American Medical Colleges, which alongside the American Medical Association sponsors the LCME, told TPM Wednesday night that other schools had expressed interest in offering final-year students early graduation.
“The Association of American Medical Colleges has not yet surveyed its member medical schools, but we have heard that several other schools are considering offering their students the option of graduating early,” AAMC spokesperson John Buarotti said.
It’s not a moment too soon: In New York, and especially in the New York City metropolitan area, medical staff have been hard hit by COVID-19. Thirteen people died of the disease at one Queens hospital Wednesday.