Zoom grid of 6 rows by 6 columns on the medical school graduates in their caps and gowns

Some of the early graduates from the Grossman School of Medicine celebrate via Zoom

Commencing Their Careers as Doctors Stat to Help Patients Urgently in Need

By Rory Evans

The final spring semester at the Grossman School of Medicine (GSM) has its usual rhythms, among them interviewing for residencies and waiting for Match Day—on March 20 this year—when the almost-doctors are given their residency assignments. Those could be in a New York City hospital, but they could also be much farther afield. After Match Day, it’s not uncommon for students to take a trip to relax between the last grind of medical school and the upcoming grind of being an intern. Others use that period to find new housing and move.

But not much was usual about the spring of 2020. On Match Day this year, 12 people died of COVID-19 in New York state alone. Three days later, that number jumped to 114. At the time, as case numbers and hospital admittances and deaths were rapidly escalating, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put out a call for more frontline workers and, by executive order, allowed fourth-year medical students at all private and public medical schools in the state to graduate months early in order to help. GSM was the very first institution to take the governor up on the offer, giving its fourth-years the option of early graduation, provided they accept a residency at an NYU Langone facility. Out of 122 students, 52 accepted the deal.

On April 3, these early grads (some pictured above) and their families filed not into an auditorium but a virtual gathering. At one point, they did the exact thing you are not supposed to do while videoconferencing—unmute en masse—in order to recite the Hippocratic oath in unison.

That same day, 630 people in the state died from the novel coronavirus, and the worst was still to come. The new GSM grads stepped into history (though not unprecedented history: in 1918, with the nation fighting both World War I and the Spanish flu, med students were also allowed to graduate early). As they reported to work at hospitals across the city to bolster the battle-weary physicians who were only weeks into treating this disease, something other than a microscopic spiked ball of a virus went viral: the very story of their graduation. At a time short on good news, along came these hand-raising helpers—and dozens upon dozens of news stories about them, from the New York Times to the New Yorker.