For fourth-year medical students, spring is normally the time for an important rite of passage. They finish classes and find out where they’ll spend the next several years doing their residencies.
The coronavirus pandemic has turned all that upside down.
Lauren Grant’s expectations for her pediatrics residency have shifted.
She wonders what will happen if there's a shortage of manpower. Or, as she says, “If I’ll start my residency as a pediatrician, or if I'll be needed in other areas of patient care.”
Grant attends Southern Illinois University Medical School in Springfield. She and three of her classmates spoke about what it’s like to graduate into this unprecedented crisis.
Farris Abou-Hanna has other worries.
“The virus is almost like a combination of all the the worst things that you would want from a virus in terms of infectivity and walking around for four or five days without knowing that you're infected," he says. "And, you know, other people breathing the air you’re exhaling and stuff. It’s not a good situation."
In June, Grant, Abou-Hanna and their classmates will fan out across the country for their residencies.
Meanwhile, they’re stuck at home, completing classes online.
Dorene Hinton’s family is in the Chicago area, which has had the majority of Illinois' COVID-19 cases so far.
“My parents are older," she says. "They're definitely in the elderly category and they had health issues that would qualify them under like immunosuppressed and, you know, compromised. So I definitely am worried and I check on them."
Jon Day has been fielding a lot of questions. That’s partly because he had a previous career as a pharmacist.
“A lot of more phone calls that I have received have been, you know, 'Is this true? Is this good information? Is this something that I should know, or is this not true?'” he says.
Hinton is headed to Wisconsin for her residency, Day to Iowa and Grant to St. Louis. Abou-Hanna is going back home to Peoria to start his internal medicine residency. He wonders about the role residents will play in hospitals that may be overwhelmed with patients.
“There are only certain things that medical students would feel comfortable doing," he says. "So that's another thing that's kind of been on my mind is what will the state ask of medical students."
Hinton is going into anesthesiology. That could put her in close contact with patients undergoing procedures like intubation, which carries a higher risk of exposure to the virus.
“So I imagine how our training and things like that would be totally different and more protected for us, just to make sure we try to reduce our chances of getting infected, but also try to teach us at the same time,” Hinton says.
Day says even without the traditional ceremonies to mark the transition into the next phase of training, he’s ready to do what he can.
“However, as I think towards you know how graduation would have been, we would have done the same thing that we did in that school, which was to recite the Hippocratic oath," he says. "And really kind of going back and holding those things paramount, making sure that we focus on trying to do the benefit for the second, trying to abstain from any harm."
This story was produced by Side Effects Public Media, a news collaborative covering public health.