Dr. Katie Harmer of Irondequoit celebrates her graduation from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry on Wednesday, April 8, 2020 outside her apartment with family. The school accelerated graduation so the new physicians could begin practicing sooner amid the pandemic.
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Via recorded video this week, the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry conferred medical degrees on the 99 members of the class of 2020.
One of those was Dr. Katie Harmer of Irondequoit.
She was in her apartment, and later celebrated with her extended family, who spread out across the lawn outside, appropriately spaced, holding signs and playing Pomp and Circumstance on assorted instruments.
“It feels absolutely surreal to be graduating at this time,” she said Thursday on a Zoom meeting organized by the university. “Definitely not how we thought we would be graduating.”
UR accelerated their graduation in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic — “to give them options not to give them obligations,” said Dr. David Lambert, senior associate dean for medical student education at UR.
This is a time most would be traveling, spending time with family and friends, relaxing before residency. Yet most have indicated a desire to begin practicing immediately. And many could soon be thrown onto the front lines, under supervision, working with COVID-positive or non-COVID patients in areas of internal medicine and emergency medicine in Rochester-area hospitals.
“This may not be the commencement you hoped for, but this is the profession you prepared for,” UR President Sarah Mangelsdorf said in the recorded ceremony, conferring the degrees. “We are very, very grateful for that fact as we face the tremendous public health challenge before us.”
Medical students are required to have 130 weeks of instruction. The UR grads ended up with 148, Lambert said. What was lost was the 5 weeks of elective time they would have had for instruction of their choosing.
“You are going to be physicians just a little sooner than you had expected,” Mangelsdorf told them. “And you are going to put what you have learned to immediate use. The next few weeks and months will require not just your knowledge and your skill, but also your compassion and your courage.”
Their final capstone course, this past week, included some preparation on caring for COVID-19 patients. More training will be provided in whatever hospital or facility they end up, officials said.
“We don’t really know where we are going to be working at this point,” said John DeGuardi of Ballston Spa, Saratoga County.
DeGuardi is talking with UR about a short-term assignment and with Yale-New Haven Hospital about a possible early start to his emergency medicine residency. Harmer is one of 18 graduates with UR residencies, hers in family medicine.
He talked about what lies ahead, appearing from his apartment with a poster of The Beatles taped to the wall behind him.
He talked about how his dad likes to reference our “better angels.” A friend is teaching music classes online. His mom is doing the same with exercise sessions for the local YMCA. His aunt is sewing masks. And he referenced the countless others, making sure the grocery store shelves are stocked and the garbage is collected.
“I feel quite privileged,” he said, “to be in this position to be able to help.”
Contact reporter Brian Sharp at email@example.com or at 585-258-2275. Follow him on Twitter @sharproc. This coverage is only possible with support from our readers. Sign up today for a digital subscription.
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