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Retirees, medical students called to help treat COVID-19 patients

Dive Brief:

  • Some of the states hardest hit by COVID-19 are turning to retired healthcare workers and medical students to fill gaps left by an already tight labor supply and an influx of patients. Some of those on the front lines of the coronavirus fight are working overtime with a lack of personal protective equipment. If they test positive for the virus they could be ordered into mandatory quarantine.
  • The Association of American Medical Colleges issued new guidance last week for states to follow as they determine who can graduate early and be immediately deployed in hospitals or residencies.
  • Medical licensure requirements vary by state, although some have been temporarily eased in response to COVID-19. Retirees in most states must have held a license in good standing and actively practiced within the past one to five years, depending on state rules.

Dive Insight:

The shortage and rapid scramble to find more workers highlights a debate among medical groups about whether medical licensing should be managed federally.

State regulations vary widely, making the hunt for eligible healthcare workers difficult, Janis Orlowski, AAMC’s chief health care officer, said in a press call last week.

“One hand, I would say many people are very supportive of the national medical license, and the issue then will be the monitoring and oversight and discipline of physicians, and that would need to be sorted out,” she said.

New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine announced last week that students can graduate three months early and begin their residencies to help care for COVID-19 patients. “A number of our students particularly in the fourth year were anxious to help and contribute,” Steven Abramson, senior vice dean for education, faculty, and academic affairs, said during a press conference Thursday.

Abramson said 69 students have volunteered to start residencies early out of a class of 122 — pending approval from the New York State Department of Education.

Massachusetts’ four medical schools moved graduation up to April and will hold ceremonies virtually. The state’s health and human services secretary asked deans to do so to more rapidly expand the state’s medical workforce capacity as case numbers rise.

In Ohio, nursing school graduates yet to complete their licensure exams can now obtain a temporary license, recently made available through the state’s coronavirus relief legislation.

Despite the need for new interns in hospitals, the scope of their practice will be limited, according to Alison Whelan, AAMC chief medical education officer.

“As students graduate with an MD degree they are graduating ready for supervised practice, not independent practice,” Whelan said.

Retirees may be more attractive to some providers, given their experience and ability to sign temporary contracts. Although some concern remains about putting high-risk groups at increased exposure of contracting COVID-19.

Because of that, retirees would primarily be deployed to pick up the slack in ambulatory care, rather than exclusively tending to COVID-19 patients, Orlowski said.

Another concern is whether retirees’ medical knowledge is up to date enough to practice.

The American Medical Association issued guidance this weekend for retired physicians looking to practice again during COVID-19.

“Whether senior physicians should be on the front line of patient care at this time is a complex issue that must balance several factors against the benefit these physicians can provide,” AMA President Patrice Harris said in a statement.

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