By Alan Lyndon
Medical students should be allowed to serve as clinicians before the health care system reaches a physician breaking point.
That’s the opinion of the American College of Physicians (ACP), the second largest medical organization in the country representing 159,000 providers.
The ACP issued their opinion after the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) instructed medical schools to suspend student internships recommended that “unless there is a critical health care workforce need locally, we strongly suggest that medical students not be involved in any direct patient care activities.”
However, the ACP on Tuesday wrote in the Annals of Internal Medicine that medical students can provide crucial assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic and “allowing them to serve may improve patient care long before the health care system reaches a personnel crisis.”
The authors, lead by David Gibbes Miller, MSc, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, said there is precedent for med students assisting in provider capacity during times of crisis.
“During the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918, medical students at the University of Pennsylvania cared for patients in the capacity of physicians,” said the authors. “In a 1952 polio epidemic in Denmark, groups of medical students were tasked with manually ventilating patients.”
The ACP identified three ways medical students can help to alleviate pressure on practicing physicians:
- Students can assist with routine outpatient clinical care including patients with chronic conditions, pregnant women who need routine check-ins, etc. These visits can be done via telemedicine.
- Students can provide care on inpatient services that do not have patients with COVID-19.
- Students can remotely assist in the care of patients with mild COVID-19 symptoms who are not admitted.
“As medical schools decide how to proceed in the time of COVID-19, we are wary of attempts to shelter students from voluntary service,” said the ACP. “Students are willing and able to fight in this historic pandemic and should be given the opportunity to do so.”
The American Medical Association (AMA) also provided guidance for medical students during the crisis by allowing them to graduate early.
“Our medical students and residents are important members of the health care workforce in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic,” said AMA President Patrice A. Harris, M.D.