As COVID-19 continues to slam New York City hospitals, New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine this week took the dramatic step of letting its graduating class depart early to join the response effort.
New York City has rapidly become a hotspot for COVID-19, with more than 15,000 of the world’s roughly 440,000 cases as of the morning of March 25. Doctors and nurses have been working around the clock to care for the surge of patients, canceling elective procedures and non-urgent appointments to free up bed space, protective supplies and staffing for acutely ill patients.
NYU’s action aims to add more physicians to the ranks.
“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,” an NYU spokesperson confirmed to TIME. The decision is subject to approval by the New York State Department of Education, Middle States and the Liaison Committee on Medical Education.
According to an email circulating on Twitter, the option is available to students in NYU’s class of 2020 who have met all graduation requirements and volunteer to work in the NYU hospital system’s internal or emergency medicine departments beginning in April.
NYU’s decision is just one example of COVID-19’s shakeup to medical education. “Match Day,” when graduating medical students learn where they will complete their residency training, is typically a ceremonious occasion, when classes gather to announce their matches. But this year, with most mass gatherings canceled due to the outbreak, Match Day was a remote affair for students like John Damianos, who learned by email, surrounded by family at home, that he will leave Dartmouth University’s Geisel School of Medicine to start an internal medicine residency at Yale University this summer.
“Many people are more excited about Match Day than even graduation,” Damianos says. “It was not the Match Day we expected, but we all understood the important need for canceling it.”
Now, Damianos and his colleagues are readying themselves to potentially enter the workforce earlier than expected, and under highly uncertain conditions. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center has leaned on medical students to carry out a number of support roles during the pandemic, and hospitals around the country have done likewise. Health care students in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, for example, have developed a childcare network for workers on the front lines.
Damianos, at least, says he’s ready to jump into patient care whenever the call comes.
“This is why I went into medicine: to help people, to serve as an advocate for public health,” he says. “This is it. This is the time to rise to the calling.”