Boston University School of Medicine made the decision March 25 that they would be graduating the class of 2020 a month early, on April 17, in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Massachusetts’ other three medical schools — Tufts University School of Medicine, Harvard Medical School and University of Massachusetts Medical School — will also be graduating students early.
Karen Antman, dean of BUSM, wrote in an email that many people took part in the decision-making process that led to this announcement. Among those involved were Marylou Sudders, Massachusetts secretary of Health and Human Services, the four Massachusetts medical school deans, BU President Robert Brown and various committees, among others.
“It takes a village,” Antman wrote.
Antman also wrote that this discussion, and ultimately the decision to have an early graduation, began after analyzing how rapidly COVID-19 was spreading both within the U.S. and across the world.
“Given that Massachusetts is seeing a rapid rise in the number of COVID cases, and on the prior experience of our physician colleagues in Wuhan, Italy and now in NY, we may see a surge in the number of cases in the coming weeks while at the same time, the health care professional workforce will become ill themselves, thus diminishing the capacity to care for very sick patients,” Antman wrote. “We may need as many health care professionals as we can get, just about the time that these students will be graduating.”
In order to get the new graduates into the workforce as soon as possible, Sudders has put together an expedited process for obtaining a license to practice medicine in Massachusetts through the Board of Registration in Medicine.
Even if the situation begins to move in a positive direction, Antman wrote, adding to the field of healthcare professionals in this time is critical. As for setting the date for early graduation, Antman wrote that the Medical Education dean’s office determined April 17 was the proper date after noticing that many students had already completed their requirements.
“Most of the students had already completed their degree requirements,” Antman wrote. “The students who had not were assigned immediately to any specific requirements they had not fulfilled. The Med Ed office then determined that those requirements would be completed by April 10th.”
Among those who have already finished their degree requirements is Rachel Bocchino, a fourth-year medical student studying internal medicine. Bocchino said while the news of an early graduation didn’t surprise her, it was still shocking to hear about officially.
“I wasn’t surprised, but it still kind of took my breath away when we got the email just because it really highlighted the severity of what is going on in our world right now,” Bocchino said. “I have technically already finished my requirements to graduate, so it’s not like anything really changed for me besides the date, but it still felt like ‘wow, this is scary what’s happening around us.’”
Bocchino said she thinks this was the right decision for BU, along with the other three medical schools, to make in light of the pandemic. She also said it is “an honor” that the deans feel that she and her classmates are ready to enter the workforce and be considered doctors that could help the situation.
Additionally, Bocchino said she is very pleased with the way BUSM is handling early graduation. She said they’ve been communicative and are trying to answer as many questions as possible.
“We’ve gotten some sort of contact from our deans every single day, if not multiple times a day, throughout this whole thing,” Bocchino said. “Instead of just feeling in the dark with all these like really momentous celebrations being taken from us, I think the school did a really great job of not taking that lightly, keeping us in the loop and really making sure that we have all of our questions answered.”
Bocchino also said BUSM has made use of the video conference platform Zoom — both to hold a question-answer session the day of the early graduation announcement and to hold a virtual celebration on ‘match day,’ when students found out where they’d be entering their residencies.
Until graduation and her entrance into the workforce, Bocchino said she’s doing all she can to help. For her and many others, that comes in the form of staying home.
“Sometimes I’m feeling down and feel so useless. I’m this ‘almost-doctor’ that’s just sitting on my couch, but really I think the most important thing that we can ask ourselves at all times is ‘what can I do to help,’ and for the moment for a lot of us that is staying home,” Bocchino said. “Once I get out there … I feel confident that I’ll be able to support the people that are experts, that I’ll be able to pick up the slack where they need and really be a support for them as well.”