Final year students at three major medical schools in New York will be entering the field as doctors more than a month early.

In an attempt to address the expected surge of  COVID-19 patients in New York hospitals, NYU, Columbia, and Cornell medical schools will be graduating students in April. 

“Many of you have asked how you can help in this time of great need. At this point in your education, each of you has demonstrated that you possess the knowledge and clinical skills to play a vital role in this effort,” administrators at Columbia University wrote in an email to students. “With this in mind, and given the urgent need for additional physicians, Columbia University has decided to move up the VP&S graduation to April 15th.” 

NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine announced on March 24th that they would be allowing students to graduate early. Columbia’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons along with Weill Cornell Medicine quickly followed suit, announcing a couple days later that their seniors could also graduate early.

Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai is also working on a plan to graduate final year students early.

While they can’t see patients, third- and fourth-year medical students have been providing background support throughout the pandemic—creating a city-wide network to donate masks and providing non-patient-facing support work at individual hospitals. 

“I think we all kind of felt a call to action,” said Aron Egelko, a fourth-year medical student at SUNY Downstate who has been volunteering at the hospital. “I feel qualified to help. I want to help. I want to do as much as I can, but right now that’s not in ERs in hospitals. Where else can I channel this energy of wanting to help right now?”

Egelko said he was talking with friends a couple of weeks ago when it became clear this would be a crisis. They decided to plan out support work they could do for the hospital: They proposed and started helping with telehealth, communicating with patients’ families; supporting lab work; tracking COVID exposed doctors; and taking on  other administrative tasks at Downstate and Kings County hospitals. 

Similar task forces have developed in other NYC hospital systems like Mount Sinai. Shravani Pathak, a Mount Sinai medical student working to connect different student-driven hospital task forces across the city, said that students have been filling the gaps as doctors and nurses focus on the crisis. 

“Medical students can provide support that other people might not be able to,” said Pathak. 

At Mount Sinai hospitals, students have been assisting with administrative tasks and handing out protective equipment to staff. 

Cesar Andrade, 4th year medical student; A member of the Pharmacy Task Force, Cesar is organizing meds for OR trays to ensure they remain uncontaminated.

“People are working non-stop and everyone is trying to do their part. People are working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to get this under control… it’s really been non-stop and incredible to see,” said Stephanie Schonholz, a third-year medical student doing volunteer work in the Mount Sinai system.

Their work is evolving with the crisis. Just this past weekend, dozens of students came forward to help Mount Sinai conduct respirator fit tests, a test that evaluates what type of mask a doctor medical worker will need. Schonholz said it just makes sense for medical students to step up during this time. 

“It’s what we signed up for… we came to medical school to care for the community, and this is the way we can do it,” she said. 

Anjali Jaiman, a third-year student who has been organizing students to do support work at SUNY Downstate’s hospital and Kings County hospital, said their work can help an  “overwhelmed hospital run well.” 

In a city-wide effort, students have been connecting protective equipment donors with hospitals that need supplies. The student-run group, PPE2NYC, has given people a centralized place to find where to donate protective equipment like N95 masks, gloves and face shields.

Egelko said that the students, especially ones nearing graduation, started these groups and task forces because they feel solidarity with the nurses and doctors fighting this pandemic.

“Everyone’s emotions are frayed, but everyone we are in contact with is really working towards the same goal of trying to do the most that we can,” he said.

Some, like these NYU medical students, are trying to help make PPE:

The early graduation still needs permission from the state Department of Education and medical school accrediting organizations, but students are expected to be in the field in a couple of weeks.