Medical, nursing school students heading from classroom to hospital amid pandemic

As COVID-19 hospitalizations in the U.S. top 100,000, there’s an urgent need for medical staff.

Students just finishing school are headed to work on the front lines of the pandemic, and in Maryland, all efforts are being taken to fast track them from the classroom to the hospital.

READ MORE: Maryland governor calling for medical staff help

On Tuesday, Gov. Larry Hogan said he was encouraging medical and nursing schools to allow students who are in their final semester and have satisfied all graduation requirements to get an “early exit” and expedited testing and licensing requirements in order to enter the workforce quickly.

“This will mean that I’ll go in as a full nurse. Ready to go and ready to help as many people as possible,” said Manfred Scott, who’s graduating from the University of Maryland, School of Nursing.

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The school says it has over 180 students who qualify for an early exit.

Scott, who’s from Montgomery County, and Deborah Madu, who’s a Nigerian immigrant living in Prince George’s County, officially graduate in about two weeks, but they’ve been working with COVID-19 patients for months already. They understand how the job impacts every part of life.

“I'm more apprehensive about the friends and family I even think about spending time with,” said Madu. “Because in case I have anything, in case I walk out of there with anything, I don’t want to give a loved one something. It's kind of lonely a little bit, but it's kind of what I signed up for, and it's rewarding at the same time.”

Scott said nursing was a “calling,” for him and he realizes the magnitude of caring for patients in the last days of their life when they can’t be with family.

“I'm definitely scared of what's going to happen. We don’t know how many cases we're going to get, how much work we're going to get,” he said. “But I know what it takes. It takes dedication, it takes empathy and just hard work.”

The CDC says health care workers and long-term care residents should be the first to get vaccinated, and those vaccinations are starting this month. Both Scott and Madu said it’s a necessary precaution.

“I'm a little excited about it,” said Madu. “Because it means maybe I can give my grandma a hug.”