A week ago, fourth-year medical students Alix Cooper and German Ferrer were celebrating acceptance to the Cascades East Family Medicine Residency Program in Klamath Falls with a Match Day hike around Upper Klamath Lake.
In just a few weeks, Cooper and Ferrer will join a small group of their classmates who are stepping straight into their residency programs nearly three months early to help expand the healthcare workforce amid COVID-19.
They are among 104 fourth-year students – 68% of M.D. Class of 2020 – to not only match into residencies but also complete their M.D. graduation requirements on March 20, the end of winter term, thanks to the OHSU School of Medicine competency-based curriculum in which students progress based on skill mastery not seat time.
Each year since the first cohort completed the full four years of the YOUR MD curriculum, more students have graduated early. In the M.D. Class of 2018, 32 students, or 25 percent of their class, graduated early; in the M.D. Class of 2019, 60, or 48 percent of the class, did so.
Moving up start date to lend more hands
But this year, for the first time, OHSU overcame the regulatory hurdles to onboard residents early to help meet COVID-19-related workforce demands. As many as five OHSU M.D. graduates will start training in OHSU residency programs in April, rather than the traditional July 1 start. New York University Medical School, in the new epicenter of the outbreak, announced this week that it will let all of its fourth-year students graduate early "to get more physicians into the health system more quickly."
In addition to Cooper and Ferrer reporting to family medicine in Klamath Falls, one classmate will start in the emergency department, positions for two others are being discussed and possibly more will onboard early over time, all foregoing hard-earned time off to serve.
“We are thrilled to see so many of our students reap the benefits of completing medical school early, not only lowering their debt but, for those doing residency at institutions like OHSU, being able to start immediately contributing at such a crucial time,” said George Mejicano, M.D., senior associate dean for education, OHSU School of Medicine. “We’re grateful to our clinical departments and residency programs that are able to make the time to bring on these new team members.”
Cooper and Ferrer already spent their fourth year of medical school at Cascades East Family Medicine clinic in Klamath Falls through the OHSU Oregon FIRST program, which brings in fourth-year students to help care for patients in this rural county. They are joining a cohort of Oregon FIRST alumni also training at Cascades East, extending their rural service.
“I’m very glad we have the opportunity to start early,” Ferrer said, “and help our medical community through this time.”
Front-line service is family affair
For Ashley Moran, accepting the offer to onboard in the OHSU emergency department was a family decision. Newlyweds, Ashley and Steve Moran are both trading what, pre-COVID-19, was going to be their honeymoon skiing in Jackson Hole for front-line service. He is a firefighter paramedic; she began her medical training as a paramedic.
“It feels right for me to step up and start now, in the middle of a world health crisis,” Moran said. “My husband helped me a lot with my decision and fully supports my choice. It helps that he is also working and facing many of the same challenges I will.
“Although I’m anxious about starting in my new role, with new responsibilities, I feel honored to have the opportunity to help and make a difference at this particular time of need in Oregon.”