Medical school graduates educated during pandemic begin residencies at OLOL

Today marks the start of the new academic year for graduate medical education at hospitals around the state that will train the medical residents, who graduated earlier this year.

At Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, which trains the bulk of those new physicians in the Capital Region, 90 new residents begin work today across a variety of primary care and specialties.

What makes this year’s class unique is that it’s the first to have finished its last two years of medical school amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The new residents were a little more than midway through their third year of school when the pandemic hit.

Not only did that impact the clinical rotations they were doing at the time, but it also affected the interview process for residency programs, which are conducted during the fall and winter of the fourth year.

“Early on, because of the issues—lack of PPE, concerns about safety—they were not able to do as much of their clinical rotations,” says Dr. Kevin Reed, associate dean for LSU School of Medicine, Baton Rouge. “But we learned we can adapt. We did a lot of virtual clinical rounds, did a lot of small group study, utilized simulation.”

All of the interviews for new residents were also conducted virtually by OLOL, which was a new experience for the students and the hospital.

“It was really a unique year,” says Christi Pierce, OLOL vice president of quality and academic affairs for graduate medical education. “We had never interviewed residents on Zoom. But we got a really strong class and are excited to welcome them to campus.”

The new class begins work as the U.S. is facing a physician shortage. An October 2020 report from the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts that by 2033, the country could see an estimated shortage of between 54,100 and 139,000 physicians, including shortfalls in both primary and specialty care. 

The pandemic is expected to exacerbate the problem, which has impacted Louisiana as much as any other state.

“Nationally, there is a need for more primary care providers across all communities,” Pierce says. “Our market is not unique in that sense. But we see it as an opportunity to grow more medical providers and we are doing a lot of work in our high schools and local colleges to raise awareness about medicine fields that are available to them and get them engaged and interested in primary care, which is so critical.”

While medical education has returned to a more pre-COVID state of normal, Pierce and Reed say there were innovations during the pandemic that proved effective and will likely continue to be implemented in training programs moving forward.

“I think some of the things we did will be helpful in the future,” Reed says. “Zoom has enabled us to save time, especially for our residents. In the past you were only able to attend a lecture in person. With Zoom, you can be on a rotation and finish a task and then jump on lecture without having to leave the building.”