Does COVID Have HCPs Questioning Their Profession?
Signs dot lawns in neighborhoods. Police and firefighters gather in a responsibly distant way with salutes, and children write letters to honor healthcare heroes.
Being a medical professional always comes with an enormous amount of respect. But as the world watches doctors, nurses, and other caregivers brave the risks of their profession – many of them without the proper protective equipment – the appreciation for their efforts has been elevated to a level never before seen.
Although many of them are accustomed to working through shifts without proper rest, they are now also isolating from their families and will likely suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder when this virus is finally behind us.
Among those watching this play out are young adults aspiring to the medical field, college students, or already in medical school.
How will this experience impact those who were considering a career as a healthcare provider?
The negative aspects of a career in medicine are not a secret. The extensive and continuing education, long hours, hard work, stress, and the weighty responsibility associated with delivering bad news and making life-or-death decisions are understood.
But no one could have predicted the havoc COVID-19 would wreak on the healthcare profession.
The number of applicants to medical school has been fluctuating over the past few decades according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Since 2003, that number has been steadily rising despite a recession and increasing tuition rates. Even a decreased trust resulting from public perception of the pharmaceutical industry’s influence over decision making was not able to keep that number from increasing.
This can be explained by the commonly held belief that those entering the medical profession see it as a calling that cannot be ignored.
The question is: can that calling to the profession weather a crisis as overwhelming and threatening as this one?
What will happen to the profession?
Optimists hope that the selfless behavior demonstrated by the medical profession during this crisis will attract the best and the brightest candidates and perhaps even inspire future healthcare professionals in the same way the armed forces saw an influx of candidates after 9/11.
Medical professionals and students have taken to social media to share stories and opinions about the pandemic and its impact on the future of the profession.
A paramedic in Colorado modestly stated, “... as someone far from best and far duller than the brightest, I can’t see myself doing anything other than medicine. This pandemic hasn’t changed that and if anything, it has reinforced that.”
Optimists hope that gaps in the industry revealed by the crisis will serve as an impetus for positive change.
Those who are not as hopeful fear that the next generation will want to avoid the medical frontlines after what they have seen and might turn to other more lucrative industries that have far less risk associated with them like technology, finance, policy administration, and consulting.
One medical student applying for residency shared via twitter, "As much as it would probably behoove my residency application to talk about how I’d gladly work for peanuts for the privilege to save people, the truth is medicine needs a major overhaul, and many of us are watching.”
Many who are currently in medical school have been called up to work in hospitals before their education formally culminated. Those students have learned invaluable lessons by holding the hands of their patients and regularly treating a disease that has no cure.
When all is said and done, even if fewer medical students come through the door, patients will be lucky to be cared for by those who have seen the profession during its darkest days and still make the commitment each and every day to practice medicine.