New York, NY – On Friday, 52 medical students became doctors two months early so they could help in the fight against the coronavirus in New York. From dorm rooms and apartments, 52 medical students watched video of themselves roll across their screens. Miles away, their proud families followed online. Gazing into webcams, the students pledged the Hippocratic oath in frayed unison, dozens of different starts and voices, all coming to the same point. They could get on with doctoring.
On Friday, a virtual graduation was held over video chat for nearly half the 2020 class at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine. They were two months ahead of schedule. That moment will be repeated in some form at other medical schools in the coming days. The more ragged the ritual, the more soul-stirring its core: Young people were stepping up to join others already serving at an hour of crisis, little different than soldiers being deployed in war. “The country needs to mobilize people,” said Dr. Steven Abramson, vice dean of the Grossman school. “Last time this happened was in World War II, when medical schools were shortened to three years.” Celebrate the students today. Remember, too, that they stand as proxies for an entire caste of the essential: doctors, nurses and technicians, of course, but also those who drive buses, pick up garbage, save lives in ambulances, stock grocery shelves, deliver mail, push bins of dirty sheets down corridors, keep the electricity grid humming and the sewer system flowing, and figure out how to make space in hospitals when none is left. “People have been showing up in the hospital from day one, and working so hard,” said Allison Horan, a medical student who urged N.Y.U. to get her class into the fight.
The students were pulled out of hospitals last month when the disease took off, and would have little to do until summer when they will begin a year as interns at hospitals around the country. Prodded by Ms. Horan and others, the school surveyed the class of 120 to find out how many wanted to begin a short-term stint of work in New York right away, backstopping doctors treating coronavirus patients. Within 12 hours, Dr. Abramson said, they had enough volunteers — 52 was the final count — to move ahead. Most of those did not live with especially vulnerable people. “It was a really easy decision to do this,” Evan Gerber, 26, said. “You have a moral obligation to society.”