Background: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic presented the world with a sudden need for additional medical professionals. Senior medical students were identified as potential workers and many worldwide graduated early to serve as Junior Physicians in hospitals. The authors sought to identify factors that informed the decision to work, describe experiences in this capacity, and elucidate benefits for trainees.
Methods: The investigators conducted a mixed-methods observational cohort study of early medical graduates eligible to work as Junior Physicians at two New York medical centers in April/May 2020 during an initial surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations. Graduates were surveyed, and a sample of Junior Physicians participated in a focus group. Survey responses of those who worked were compared to those who did not. Focus group responses were transcribed, coded, and thematically analyzed.
Results: Fifty-nine graduates completed the study methods and 39 worked as Junior Physicians. Primary reasons for working included duty to help (39 [100%]), financial incentive (32 [82%]), desire to learn about pandemic response (25 [64%]), and educational incentive (24 [62%]). All had direct contact with COVID-19 patients, believed working was beneficial to their medical training, and were glad they worked. None contracted a symptomatic infection while working. Compared with non-Junior Physicians, Junior Physicians reported increased comfort levels in completing medical intern-level actions like transitions of care functions, such as writing transfer notes (P < 0.01), writing discharge orders (P = 0.01), and providing verbal sign out (P = 0.05), and they reported more comfort in managing COVID-19 patients. Sixteen themes emerged from the focus group and were placed into four categories: development of skills, patient care, safety, and wellness.
Conclusions: Senior medical students chose to work as Junior Physicians for both personal and educational reasons. Experiences were beneficial to trainees and can inform future innovations in medical education.
Keywords: COVID-19; Early graduation; Medical students; New York; Undergraduate medical education.