With the predicted peak of COVID-19 cases in Kansas drawing close in the coming weeks, 52 fourth-year medical students at the University of Kansas have volunteered to graduate early to help the ongoing fight.
These students will be just a fraction of other medical students around the country who are also graduating early. While some may wonder what sort of experience and knowledge these students are bypassing with early graduation, Dr. Erin Morris, Chair of Biology and Chemistry at Baker, says that the spring schedule for fourth-year medical students is pretty flexible.
“The 4th and final year of med school have a relaxed spring schedule so students can travel to interview for residency positions. Residency ‘Match Day’ happened at the end of March, so all of these doctors know where they are headed and are ready to go to work if their destination needs them” said Morris.
While most of the COVID-19 cases in Kansas have shown up in the largest counties, rural areas are beginning to see cases as well. According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, 66 of the 105 counties being underserved for primary medical care, with nearly a third having only one or two physicians to serve the entire country. It is expected for early graduating students to be assigned to areas with the greatest need.
This is not the first time that the US has encouraged the expedition of physician training. During World War II, the federal government encouraged medical schools to create three-year accelerated programs to address physician shortages both at home and abroad. As for the 1918 influenza pandemic, some medical students went from lecture and laboratory classes straight to practicing.
Morris easily summed up the reason for such actions to be taken by the early graduating students: “Early graduation gives them the chance to help with this healthcare crisis a few months early.”
Junior and pre-med student Skyler Bruck aspires to be an orthopedic surgeon but is also considering emergency medicine and oncology. One of the main reasons she is studying to be a physician, like many pre-medicine students, is to help others.
“I really like the thought of being able to help people when there is really nothing they can do to help themselves. I can’t think of a better way to utilize myself” said Bruck.
When asked her opinion on the early graduation decision for medical students, Bruck says “I think it is honestly amazing…. Their schooling is important but I think this experience will teach them more than those last few weeks of med school would have.”
Currently, two fourth-year KU medical students are former Baker graduates, although it is unknown whether or not they will be graduating early. Bruck insists that if she were in their situation, she would gladly choose to join the fight against the pandemic early.
“It would feel like a waste if I had this training but couldn’t use it in one of the biggest healthcare crises of our lifetime. I would be itching to be a part of it and to help in any capacity I could.”