The University of Kansas Medical School, with one of its campuses in Kansas City, Kansas, will graduate 52 medical students early to help in Kansas with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The early graduation will come just at the time that COVID-19 is rising and may peak in Kansas, according to doctors at a University of Kansas Health System news teleconference Friday morning.
The announcement came as Wyandotte County reported 119 positive COVID-19 cases at 8:15 a.m. Friday, an increase from 108 positive cases here Thursday evening. Kansas had 552 positive cases on Thursday morning.
Many of the new doctors will be available to assist in areas where there may be a shortage of physicians, according to Dr. Mike Kennedy, associate dean for rural medicine at KU Med, who spoke at the news conference. The newly graduated medical students will work alongside practicing physicians in the program, called Kansas Pandemic Volunteer Health Care Workforce.
The new doctors are expected to serve in April and May in Kansas, before starting their residencies.
Dr. Jeff Colyer, former governor of Kansas, came up with the idea for the early graduation. Colyer is a clinical associate profession in plastic surgery at the KU Medical School, and frequently has participated in medical missions to war zones and epidemics. He currently serves as chair of the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services.
“We are clearly going to need surge capacity,” Dr. Colyer said at the news conference. Sometimes medical students take a break between graduation and starting their residency, but this year, 52 students have volunteered for assisting throughout Kansas.
“They’re incredibly service-minded,” Dr. Colyer said.
The students will be available to assist practicing physicians and in hospitals in Kansas, doing whatever tasks they are assigned, such as seeing patients or doing tests.
Kennedy said the senior medical students wanted to help.
He also said they will not miss out on any of their education, and will complete all the requirements first. Those who have now completed all graduation requirements will be available for the program first, and those who have yet to complete some requirements will be available at the end of April, he said.
The degrees will be conferred early, and they will receive a special permit through the Board of Healing Arts to work temporarily under a supervising physician, he said.
Some Kansas counties have only one or two physicians, according to the doctors at the news conference.
While the discussion at the news conference centered on the new graduates helping rural communities in Kansas, they also would be available to help cities in Kansas with a surge in COVID-19 cases, according to Dr. Kennedy.
He said the new graduates will be matched to places of need. Groups including hospitals, the Kansas Medical Society and Kansas Academy of Family Physicians are being notified about the program and may offer the students a position. So far, the eastern portions of the state have the most requests, he said. There also are some areas in western Kansas that are beginning to feel pressure from COVID-19, he said.
Dr. Colyer said that nationally, the picture is shifting with some spread heading to rural areas and across the state. He said the new doctors might be used for seeing less acute patients, drawing blood, running an EKG or other tasks.
“They’re energetic and ready to go,” he said.
Dr. Kennedy thanked the Patterson Family Foundation, which donated $1 million for this program. The foundation originally was founded by the late Neal Patterson, Cerner Corp. co-founder, and Jeanne Lillig-Patterson in 2007. The foundation focuses on health care, education and rural communities.
The program is administered by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and is being coordinated through the Kansas National Guard, with Dr. John Alley, a surgeon at KU Health System, called to duty as director of the operational portion of the program, Dr. Kennedy said.
Dr. Stites thanked the Patterson foundation, and noted that there were many who also are helping in the crisis, including the medical students who are volunteering. In addition, he mentioned all health care workers, as well as Riegers, which donated hand sanitizer, and Design Innovation, which made face shields for the KU health system.
Dr. Steve Stites reported 33 positive patients on Friday morning at KU Health System, down slightly from Thursday. Dr. Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control at the KU Health System, said it is still too early to say if they are truly bending the curve.
Dr. Stites said 7 percent of all tests were positive here formerly, and now it is up to 10 percent, showing community transmission. If there is a surge, it could come at the end of April or May, he said.
The way to beat COVID-19, Dr. Stites said, is to stay home, stay 6 feet away from others, don’t touch your face, stay home when sick and cough in the crook of the elbow.
The Kansas COVID-19 website is at
The UG’s COVID-19 response website is at
COVID-19 information from the CDC is at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html.