BETHESDA, MD—In an unprecedented move, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) will graduate its medical students and nurses several weeks early to help boost forces available to fight the novel coronavirus within the DoD and U.S. Public Health Service.

The early graduations will launch 170 new doctors and 60 graduate nurses by April 17, according the DoD.

“Our students are uniquely prepared to meet and address the readiness needs of the Department of Defense and our Nation the moment they step out of our doors,” said USUHS President Richard Thomas, MD, DDS. “This is exactly what they were educated and trained to do. The surgeon generals of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Public Health Service will receive a competent cadre of healthcare professionals who can augment current resources available to them.” 

The graduates will have completed a wide range of courses relevant to the current situation, Thomas said. “Our curriculum has a specific focus on threats like emerging infectious diseases and disasters that our military and Public Health Service forces are likely to encounter in the course of their careers. This instruction is based on real-life lessons learned, is woven throughout the curriculum and incorporated into our medical field exercises.”

While the advanced practice nurses will be able to immediately engage at the full level of their licensing, the new doctors will require some supervision. The medical school graduates will need to work under the supervision of licensed physicians, as licensing requires time spent in internships, which the students will not have completed.

USUHS students are all active-duty uniformed officers in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Public Health Service. Of the physicians, about 20% will go into primary care and 12% into emergency medicine. The remainder will enter specialties ranging from psychiatry to surgery, anesthesia to orthopedics, and other fields.

The graduate nurses include nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists and certified registered nurse anesthetists.

At the end of March, the Army and VA also asked retired medical providers to consider returning to service to help with the pandemic. More than 9,000 retired soldiers responded to the Army’s plea, according to Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville. Once fully vetted, the retirees will cover for medical personnel who have deployed to field hospitals and overwhelmed local hospitals. Some will also likely fill in for medical staff who are quarantined or ill.

The VA was short-staffed by 44,000 at the start of the pandemic and had 1,100 healthcare workers quarantined in early April; seven VA healthcare workers have died.

The VA is actively fighting the coronavirus within its own facilities where it is increasingly treating non-veterans, as well as former warriors. It has directly appealed to clinicians to consider VA re-employment to help fill some of the gaps and demands on the nation’s largest integrated healthcare system increase exponentially.