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MARCH 27, 2020 -- New York University has decided to allow medical students the opportunity to graduate early. Such a move may end up being a model for other institutions that are seeking to increase staffing amid the coronavirus pandemic, a researcher said.
"It's definitely a positive move," said Patricia Pittman, PhD, a professor at George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health.
A website led by specialists in emergency medicine, Brief-19, first reported that NYU's Grossman School of Medicine had offered early graduation for students who would agree to begin working in internal medicine and emergency departments starting in April.
Late Tuesday evening, Brief-19 tweeted a copy of the school's letter to medical students. Kate Malenczak, a spokesperson for NYU, confirmed for Medscape Medical News that the Grossman School of Medicine had agreed to permit early graduation. She said this was in response to a directive from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to try to get more physicians into the state's health system.
The plan requires approval from the New York State Department of Education, Middle States and the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), Malenczak said.
Metropolitan New York has been hit hard by the virus. As of midday Wednesday, there were 17,856 cases confirmed for New York City, with nearby counties also reporting significant numbers of cases: Nassau (3285 cases), Westchester (4691), and Suffolk (2260), according to the state Department of Health tally.
In related news, Brief-19 reported today that the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx had invited its fourth-year medical students to return to clinical duties.
That's a reversal of a recent trend, Brief-19 noted. Medical schools across the nation have removed students from clinical duties to protect them and conserve resources, such as personal protective equipment.
On Wednesday, Cuomo announced that to date 40,000 New York healthcare workers, including retirees and students, had signed up to volunteer to work as part of the state's surge healthcare force during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, more than 6000 mental health professionals have signed up to provide free online services.
Hospitals will face challenges in stretching out their available staff to respond to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), said Pittman. She spoke on the subject yesterday in a webinar arranged by the Alliance for Health Policy.
In an interview today with Medscape Medical News, Pittman said Cuomo's call to bring healthcare workers back into hospitals may need to be emulated elsewhere. Many currently employed clinicians may fall ill themselves or need to attend to family members. Without reinforcements, this would put even more stress on the clinicians who remain at work.
"If you have attrition in the workforce, you get into a vicious cycle where there is more fatigue and more attrition," Pittman said. "Getting ahead of that issue is really important."
Cuomo called the quick emergence of about 40,000 volunteers for the COVID-19 response "a big, big deal." Hospital and government officials can work together to find more equipment and beds, but this work would be in vain without extra help to attend to patients.
"You have to have staff when the existing staff gets ill, or, by the way, just can't work the hours that we're going to need people to be working," Cuomo said.
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