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Fourth-year medical students will be thrust into pandemic conditions after graduation

More than 200 students at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Worth are about to become physicians and join the medical ranks at a crucial time

FORT WORTH, Texas — Fourth-year medical student Nicolet Finger is about to start her residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation. But she knows that residency may now come with risks.

"There’s a very real chance, actually a guaranteed chance, I’ll be exposed to COVID-19 during that time, during my first year of training especially," she said Wednesday.

Finger is one of more than 200 students about to graduate in May from the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine (TCOM) at UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth. 

Around the country, freshly-minted doctors who are graduating this spring are entering the medical profession in the midst of a pandemic.

"My excitement to help overrides the worry of my own personal health, because at the end of the day this is what I came into medicine to do," Finger said.

The landscape looks quite a bit different for these brand-new doctors than it typically would, with an ongoing pandemic in all corners of the country. 

Dr. Ryan Seals, who teaches at TCOM, said they try to prepare their students for an ever-changing landscape. Right now is an extreme example of what physicians can face.

"I’ve got contacts that have friends in physical medicine and rehabilitation residencies in New York," Dr. Seals said, "and they’re managing ventilators, they’re working with patients in the ICU, when primarily they would’ve been working more with stroke patients or rehab patients. It's all hands on deck."

TCOM fourth-year student Kevin Honan, who's about to start an internal medicine residency, now also must consider the safety of his vulnerable family members while he goes to work; he has a five-day-old daughter.

"I have a newborn," Honan said. "It’s my first child and it really changes everything. I obviously have to fulfill my duties as both a father and a physician."

But he's anxious to make a difference, and understands the importance of what's expected of him and his colleagues.

"I think, just speaking on behalf of my classmates, that they’re going to be able to answer the call," he said.

Finger echoed those sentiments.

"I’m excited to get into the wards and help as best I can, and learn very, very fast," she said.

They're a new generation of doctors entering the workforce, and they're ready and willing to help when the world needs it most.

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