As COVID-19 puts growing burdens on health care systems nationwide, Ohio University and its Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine are strengthening the medical workforce by graduating medical students sooner than planned.
This will create an opportunity for the class of 2020 graduates to begin working as resident physicians earlier, as the state and nation face a growing number of COVID-19 patients – a trend that could worsen over the next two months.
Ohio University was scheduled to hold its medical school commencement ceremony on May 9. The university will now confer its Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degrees on April 18.
Many of these new physicians will be joining hospitals and health care systems in Ohio. Seventy-two percent of the 227 members of the class of 2020 who sought residencies are staying in the state to practice.
“Training physicians who provide excellent care in our Ohio communities is fundamental to our mission,” said Ken Johnson, D.O., Heritage College executive dean and Ohio University chief medical affairs officer. “When the state of Ohio and our health system partners asked how to get new doctors into the workforce more quickly, the solution was clear. Our medical students are ready now.”
Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis, Ph.D., said the university is committed to doing all it can to battle the pandemic. “Thanks to prompt and decisive action by our governor and department of health, Ohio is recognized nationally and internationally as a model for its response to this public health emergency,” Nellis said. “Ohio University is strengthening our state’s response, and I’m truly grateful to the Heritage College and its class of 2020 for their willingness to adapt quickly and to serve during these very challenging circumstances.”
Class member E. Scott Wong, Ph.D., past president and national representative of the Heritage College Student Government Association, said his class feels a responsibility to help during this time of crisis. “Many of us were attracted to the Heritage College because of its patient-centered philosophy of care,” Wong said. “This year, as more and more patients need care, it just makes sense to make it possible to start residency training earlier.”
The college is discussing how to celebrate the class’s achievements and honor the new physicians without its in-person commencement ceremony.
The plan to confer degrees three weeks early follows the college’s recent announcement that its entire third-year class of medical students will be supporting the Ohio Department of Health and other state health agencies through a required four-week COVID-19 public health rotation starting April 13.