States call on new graduates, retired medical staff to help fight coronavirus

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PHOENIX -- The White House coronavirus task force says it’s possible 100,000 to 200,000 people in the U.S. may die from COVID-19, and the increasing number of cases has states calling for retired medical staff to return to work -- and for medical students to graduate early.

Retired physician assistant Eric Schuman said this pandemic has been like nothing he’s ever seen before. Returning to work was his top priority, helping lend a hand in any way he can.

“I wonder if there is a way to utilize my skills and experience to help in this crisis? I feel like my whole career and most of my life, I’ve wanted to do things to help people in a constructive way... why not go back into helping patients,” Schuman told Fox News.

72-year-old retired physician assistant Eric Schuman tells Fox News he wanted to head back to work to help fight COVID-19. (Stephanie Bennett/Fox News)

72-year-old retired physician assistant Eric Schuman tells Fox News he wanted to head back to work to help fight COVID-19. (Stephanie Bennett/Fox News)

Retirees have been at a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus because of their age. Schuman said he’s not taking any chances. He got in touch with the Oregon Medical Reserve Corps and his former employer to see what options were safe and available.

“I approached Kaiser [Permanente] and I asked them if there were opportunities to do telemedicine they said absolutely we would love to get you on board,” Schuman said.

“At the age of 72, I’m at high risk, and I don’t want to bring COVID home to my family. So, it needs to be something that would be, say, in a call center where I was answering questions for the public, or telemedicine, which is what most clinicians are doing now nationwide because it’s not safe to take people in direct patient care,” he continued.

Medical students just starting out in the business also have been jumping in. The University of Arizona and several other schools have let their fourth-year medical students apply for early graduation.

Universities across the country have been allowing fourth-year medical students to apply for early graduation to help combat the spread of COVID-19. (Fox News)

Universities across the country have been allowing fourth-year medical students to apply for early graduation to help combat the spread of COVID-19. (Fox News)

“They could be a big help, you could unleash up to 200 newly meted physicians to go out on the frontlines and help,” University of Arizona President Dr. Robert Robbins said.

Starting a medical residency program amid a global pandemic is something these students likely never imagined. According to the National Resident Matching Program, the 2020 Match was the program’s largest ever, with 40,084 applications for 37,256 positions. Robbins said by this time of year, Arizona’s medical students have been ready to start helping patients.

The University of Arizona has two medical schools. Robbins says they're continuously tracking COVID-19. They've created their own test kits and have been donating supplies to the community, including the Navajo Nation. (University of Arizona)

The University of Arizona has two medical schools. Robbins says they're continuously tracking COVID-19. They've created their own test kits and have been donating supplies to the community, including the Navajo Nation. (University of Arizona)

“They are just eager, excited. They’ve gotten all of the coursework, anatomy, physiology, pathology done, their clinical rotation and medicine and surgery and OBGYN and primary care and pediatrics, and they are really ready to go,” Robbins said.

In some states including California, where coronavirus cases have topped 16,000, they’re temporarily waiving certain requirements to get workers into hospitals more quickly. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order aimed at expanding the health-care workforce temporarily, letting facilities staff at least an additional 50,000 hospital beds.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York signed a similar executive order. New York has led the nation in coronavirus cases with over 138,000.

“I think it’s bringing our country together to fight this and it’s the only way we are going to win,” Robbins added.

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As for Schuman, he said he can’t wait to get started again.

“If you had a lot of activities that took your time in retirement that you suddenly can’t do because of social distancing, you want to do something worthwhile,” Schuman said.