It's always better to be safe than sorry.
This week, the University of Arizona College of Medicine — Tucson announced it will allow its fourth-year students to graduate early in order to increase the number of physicians able to combat the COVID-19 pandemic — on a volunteer basis.
To date, Arizona has about 920 confirmed cases of COVID-19 along with 18 deaths. As a whole, the U.S. has nearly 140,000 confirmed cases and 2,300 deaths. Nearly two weeks ago, on March 16, the U.S. had 4,400 confirmed cases, meaning there has been an increase in nearly 136,000 cases in just 13 days.
"Some of our students are matching all over the country, so it's not just about residencies here, it's about residency programs in other parts of the country that may need more assistance more rapidly," said Dr. Kevin Moynahan, deputy dean for education at UA College of Medicine – Tucson. "At this point in time, we haven't peaked. ... We don't really know what that peak is going to look like and so we would rather be agile if we need to be."
The majority of the fourth-year medical students around the country have already fulfilled their graduation requirements and so this would enable them to graduate at least a month in advance.
Normally, July 1 is the date when newly-graduated physicians begin their first year of residency. This year, given the circumstances, the UA College of Medicine will hold its graduation in April and the students who are volunteering to help fight the pandemic can begin the process earlier.
"We'd rather be prepared than look back and say, 'Oh boy, I wish we had done that,' because it can't be done very rapidly," Moynahan said. "These residency interns will have to be on-boarded by their programs, become employed and get insurance. It's not something that can be done on a dime."
Other medical schools around the country have done the same. Recently, the Grossman School of Medicine at New York University became the first school to announce this change, as New York City is currently the hardest-hit place in the nation.
In addition, the UA College of Medicine — Phoenix announced in an email that it will allow its fourth-year students to graduate early, as well.
As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to grow around the country, physicians and other healthcare workers on the front lines are becoming all the more necessary. Estimates are projecting that millions of people will become infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and so a shortage of physicians should be the least of the country's worries.
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