States recruit health care professionals to combat COVID-19

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The National Guard

New York National Guard members Reagan Long and Naomi Velez register patients at a COVID-19 testing location in Glenn Island Park, New Rochelle, on March 14.

Jiayu Zhan, Staff Writer

In response to COVID-19, states have struggled to expand the workforce of medical professionals, thus resorting to deploying those waiting for licenses, retired or graduating from medical school.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) set temporary regulatory laws in response to the continuing spread of COVID-19. In order to expand the workforce, they are removing licensing barriers for physicians, nurses, clinicians and licensed medical workers from other states. Instead of waiting joblessly for paperworks to be finished, all professionals can now get hired by hospitals to combat the pandemic. They may also order and perform COVID-19 tests regardless if they are physicians or not.

Hard-hit states have been asking retired doctors and nurses for help. Doctor Judy Salerno, 68 years old and retired, is now rejoining the medical force. “When there are more than 20,000 infected people in my city, there is no question that I need to help — I didn’t hesitate”, she said.

However, many professionals are skeptical of Salerno’s offer to help. Because of their age, retired medical workers are often more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that the elderly have a higher chance of developing more severe complications. “8 out of 10 deaths reported in the US have been in adults 65 years old and older,” the CDC warns.

An alternative to deploying retired medical workers would be to graduate medical students early to allow them to join the workforce. The NYU Grossman School of Medicine was the first in the US to make this decision.

On March 24, it began to offer early graduation to fourth-year students who desired to help treat COVID-19 patients. On April 3, 52 students graduated in a virtual ceremony. Other schools soon followed suit, including Harvard Medical School (HMS), Tufts University, Boston University and the University of Massachusetts.

Although losing the student status early may affect insurance, housing, and visas, hundreds of medical students signed up to help.

Graduating HMS student Josephine Fisher expressed a mixture of fear and excitement in joining the frontlines. “Though I feel nervous about the risks posed to myself, and even more so to my family, who I risk exposing when I return home from work, I feel very lucky that I am on the cusp of completing medical school at this time … It means I have been trained with skills that might allow me to make a meaningful difference providing clinical care during this pandemic.”