Graduating Medical School And Starting Residency During A Global Pandemic

I haven’t been directly involved in patient care for almost three months, and in just a few days, I will be at the forefront of it. I have never cared for a patient with COVID-19. I have never had to don and doff PPE on a COVID-19 unit. Just three weeks into my intern year, I will be on the ICU night float service where I will be caring for the sickest patients in the hospital – some of whom will likely have COVID-19. How did I get to this point?

On Tuesday, March 17th, just after finishing morning rounds on the Infectious Diseases service at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, I received an email titled “All Clinical Students are to Step Away from Clinical Rotations. Effective Immediately.” And just like that, I would never return to the clinical setting until the start of my intern year. I grabbed my things and headed out of the hospital, along with some classmates. On the way to our cars, we discussed the impact of this change. Would we be back in time for our final capstone? Would students be required to make up their remaining core rotations? As we said goodbye and entered our cars, one last question crossed my mind: would I even see my classmates again?

Our removal from clinical duties seemed trivial; however, compared to the news that Match Day was cancelled. Though this announcement was expected, I still felt extremely disappointed. Match Day came, and I spent it at my girlfriend’s apartment with six other medical students. Tuned into our Match Day Zoom, we watched our classmates’ photos on a PowerPoint slideshow played alongside their walk-up songs. Rather than opening envelopes surrounded by family and friends, we continuously refreshed our inboxes awaiting the “NRMP Main Residency Match Results” email with our families on FaceTime.

With Match Day behind us, everyone focused on graduation. One week later, we received the news that our university was postponing all commencement exercises. For fourth-year medical students, this meant that there would be no graduation ceremony. I realized that I would not have a chance to say a final goodbye to my classmates with whom I had spent so much time over the past four years. With some colleagues, our goodbye was walking back to our cars together that final day of clerkships. With no reason to stay, I left Saint Louis and drove cross-country home to Los Angeles.

My plans for vacation in Italy were replaced with lounging at home and playing Call of Duty. When June finally arrived, my intern orientation was a Zoom marathon. I completed ACLS training while maintaining six feet of space from my new colleagues. Imagine trying to social distance while running a code! And just as my goodbyes disappeared, so did my hellos. I have yet to meet many of my co-interns in person, let alone see their faces without a mask on.

I know that COVID-19 has impacted everyone, many in ways much worse than this. Unlike many, I am lucky that my family and friends have remained safe and healthy, and I understand that my trials and tribulations are trivial. In an ironic way, at a time when healthcare providers were needed the most, I was unable to participate. Match Day, graduation, and the start of my intern year were definitely not what I imagined. Still, one way or another, I am here -- an intern at University of Southern California Internal Medicine Residency Program. I am ready to serve. I am grateful to return to patient care and excited to be starting my career as a physician during these unprecedented times.

Author: Ara Vartanyan, MD, Internal Medicine PGY-1, University of Southern California
Faculty Mentor: Ryan Nelson, MD, Division of Internal Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Posted by Ara Vartanyan on Jul 22, 2020 10:52 AM America/New_York